Expect another Blues' cruise
Our Ben Coley previews all seven of Saturday's Barclays Premier League games.
- 2.5pts Everton (-1) to beat Norwich at 6/5 (Sky Bet) - Norwich very poor against league's finest; Everton in roaring form going forward
- 1pt Southampton and West Brom to draw at 11/4 (General) - Baggies are draw specialists on the road; Saints leaky now and not winning many
- 1pt Fulham to beat Sunderland to nil at 3/1 (Sky Bet) - tight game in store but Fulham back to form at home and Sunderland lack goals
Hull v Chelsea (1245 GMT)
It's not something I'd have expected to type at the start of the season, but this game represents a stern test of Chelsea's title credentials. Hull have been one of the success stories of the first half of the season and it's success built on a fine record of five wins, three draws and just two defeats at home. The two defeats have come in their last five games having gone their first five unbeaten, but there's little to be read into that as in-between they've thumped Fulham 6-0, deservedly seen off Liverpool and battled hard for a point against Stoke. Even away from home they've been hard to beat and much credit must go to Steve Bruce. Chelsea, though, may be the best-equipped of the title challengers for this test. Jose Mourinho is a past-master at grinding out results and his previous success at Chelsea owed as much to their ability to do so in games like this as it did his well-documented home record. With that in mind, the likelihood is that Chelsea will justify odds-on quotes even without a striker to rely on. On that note, it's interesting that goalscorer markets are still dominated by Demba Ba, Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto'o, despite the fact we're past the midway point in the season yet between them that trio have seven goals to Eden Hazard's eight. The Belgian came on after the break to inject life into Chelsea's attacks in their FA Cup win at Derby and, likely to be returned to the starting line-up, he's arguably the most likely in all such markets here and it'd be no surprise were he voted man of the match. However, we must acknowledge Hull's exceptional defensive record - they have six clean sheets at home and half of their goals conceded came against United - and that fact suggests there's limited value in trying to pin down a Chelsea scorer ahead of a game which could see them struggle to find the net more than once. A 1-0 Chelsea win is tempting at 6/1, more so than skinny enough quotes about them again winning to nil as they bid for a third clean sheet in a row, but this is trappy.
Verdict: Hull 0 Chelsea 1
Chelsea have won three and lost none of their previous five Barclays Premier League meetings with Hull City (D2).
No team has kept more home clean sheets (6) or conceded fewer home league goals (6) than the Tigers so far this season.
Only in August (2.15) do Chelsea average more points per game in the Premier League than they manage in January (1.91).
Cardiff v West Ham (1500)
West Ham's woes continued with a 6-0 thumping at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night, and it remains possible that Sam Allardyce is no longer in charge come kick-off. There's no denying that losing two games by an aggregate of 11-0 is not good - to say the least - regardless of the competitions, opponents, and strength of the sides put out. But ultimately if West Ham go to Cardiff and win, Allardyce can say it's job done. It may sound defeatist and Swansea's efforts last season show what can be achieved, but West Ham were never very likely to come through two legs against Manchester City, nor were they likely to win the FA Cup. Their season is all about survival in the Premier League and that remains a goal they're odds-on to achieve, regardless of who is in charge. That may of course change if they lose to Cardiff, and all the money has been for the home sides who are now odds-on with most firms. Do you really want to take odds-on about a side with just one win in 10 in the Premier League? I certainly don't, even if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's reign got off to a perfect start with FA Cup victory at Newcastle last weekend. Cardiff are definitely capable of beating West Ham but their implosion against Sunderland lingers in the memory and they're simply too short to be backing here. That being said, West Ham need to apply themselves and until evidence of that appears they too are an extremely risky proposition. Watch and learn is the advice.
Verdict: Cardiff 1 West Ham 1
Cardiff have only won one of their last 10 home meetings with West Ham in all competitions (D3 L6).
West Ham have won their last five meetings with Cardiff City in all competitions, keeping four clean sheets in the process.
The Hammers have dropped 14 points from winning positions this season; more than any other team in the Premier League.
Everton v Norwich (1500)
A glance at their results says much about Norwich. As I've written before, they do very well in important games against clubs close to them in the table, but almost always roll over when faced with a challenge such as that which faces them here. This season they've beaten West Brom, Crystal Palace, West Ham, Stoke and Southampton, but they've lost to Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham - four of those five were by more than a goal, with the exception United's 1-0 win at Carrow Road. Indeed, the only game which really contradicts this theory is their 2-2 draw with Everton in the reverse fixture on the opening day of the season and it's possible to argue they caught Everton at the right time as Roberto Martinez found his feet. It won't surprise you, then, that I expect a convincing home win here. Everton continued their fine home record with a 4-0 thumping of QPR last weekend and their only aberration, a 1-0 defeat by Sunderland, was unfortunate in many ways. We are of course used to Everton being good at home, but not with such ruthless proficiency in front of goal. Under David Moyes they averaged just under 30 home goals per season - just over 1.5 per game - but this year they're on course for 38 at an average of two per game which would be their highest ever Premier League total. This gives me real confidence that they can cover the handicap and at bigger than evens, that's the way to go. For those who expect further fireworks, Sky Bet's 5/1 about four or more home goals is fair enough.
Verdict: Everton 3 Norwich 0
The Toffees have hit the target with 50.0% of their shots so far this season; 114 of 228. Only Arsenal (52.3%) have hit the target with more.
Norwich City scored two goals from two shots on target in their reverse fixture with Everton in August; the Toffees bagged two from seven.
Everton have won eight points thanks to goals scored in the 80th minute or later this season; the most in the Premier League.
Fulham v Sunderland (1500)
Sunderland have had a good week, of that there's no doubt. First, they produced a decent enough display to beat Carlisle in the FA Cup before taking a step towards the Capital One Cup final with a 2-1 victory over Manchester United. However, with Manchester City likely to stand in their way of League Cup glory and a long way to go in the FA Cup, there's still not a great deal to celebrate. What's important is that they begin to pick up points in the league and you feel that has to start here against Fulham. Rene Meulensteen has done a pretty decent job since Martin Jol left Craven Cottage, bar of course that 6-0 thumping at Hull. Fulham's relative success in the top flight has historically come courtesy of their home form, which had disappeared under Jol but looks on its way back. Under the Belgian, they've beaten Aston Villa and West Ham and have given both Spurs and Man City problems. That bodes really well for Sunderland's visit and I fancy them to beat a side who've scored just five times away from home all season and remain extremely vulnerable despite a fortunate victory at Everton and a come-from-behind draw at Cardiff. A home win can be backed at 5/4 and that's very fair, but I'm prepared to take what is admittedly a chance on Fulham also keeping a clean sheet. They're 3/1 to win to nil and given that Sunderland have scored in just three of their 10 away games, and lost the reverse without scoring, that to me looks a good price despite obvious concerns about the Fulham defence.
Verdict: Fulham 2 Sunderland 0
Fulham have kept six clean sheets in their last nine Barclays Premier League meetings with Sunderland (W4 D4 L1).
Sunderland have won only two of their nine previous Barclays Premier League trips to Fulham (D2 L5), though both victories ended 3-1.
Dimitar Berbatov has scored in each of his last three Premier League appearances for Fulham.
Southampton v West Brom (1500)
There's little doubt that Southampton have endured a terribly difficult sequence of games dating back to their slightly unfortunate defeat to Arsenal in November. However, it's equally clear that just five points from a possible 27 represents a big step backwards regardless of the opposition, which does include Cardiff, Aston Villa and Newcastle as well as the league's absolute best. The big issue is one which appeared in the FA Cup last weekend - poor defending. Having managed seven clean sheets from their first nine Premier League games, they've added just one more from a further 11. With all of this in mind, a home game against West Brom looks just the ticket. Keith Downing has done well since taking charge 'temporarily' almost a month ago and is undefeated in the league, but this is an altogether more difficult test than a trip to West Ham in which they somehow managed not to win despite scoring three. West Brom's only away win this season came at Old Trafford, a remarkable fact in itself, and it's quite difficult to make a case for them here at 4/1. That said, taking odds-on about a side with one win in nine isn't wise - West Brom are hardly the worst side in the division, either - so if there's value in the match betting it has to be the draw at 11/4. West Brom have drawn six times away - twice as many times as more than half the teams in the Premier League - and winning has become difficult for Southampton.
Verdict: Southampton 1 West Brom 1
Southampton are without a clean sheet in five home league matches, having kept four in a row in September and October.
West Bromwich Albion are unbeaten since Steve Clarke was sacked (W1 D3). They lost their last four under his management.
West Brom have kept three clean sheets in their last four Barclays Premier League meetings with Southampton, conceding just once in the other game.
Tottenham v Crystal Palace (1500)
With the greatest of respect, Tottenham should never be backed to win a Premier League game at home at odds of 4/11. Whether it's Tim Sherwood, Andre Villas-Boas or even Harry Redknapp in charge, over the last few seasons they've represented poor value at such a price. They're without question best supported away from home at odds-against, where they've secured a league-high 22 points versus just 15 at White Hart Lane. This isn't to say they won't beat Palace, simply that the prospects of them doing so would be more accurately reflected by a price in the region of 8/13. With this in mind I think Palace are worthy of strong consideration at 12/5 in Coral's double chance market, or at a shade of odds-on on the Asian handicap with a +1.5 start; this would mean a winning bet as long as they don't lose by more than one. The problem is their away form, which reads eight defeats and zero draws in 10 games. However, both victories have come in their last five as they continue to improve under the guidance of Tony Pulis and since he took over they've not lost away by more than a goal, which bodes well for the aforementioned Asian handicap bet. Pulis also worked out how to frustrate Spurs during his time at Stoke, whose last four visits under him produced two draws, a win, and a one-goal defeat. However, the fact that Sherwood is adopting something of an all-out attack policy just tempers my enthusiasm here as if Spurs do click they could win comfortably, something I'd have been confident wouldn't have happened under Villas-Boas. With that in mind I'll just about give this one a miss even if my instinct says Palace will snatch a point.
Verdict: Tottenham 1 Crystal Palace 1
Crystal Palace are unbeaten in four previous Barclays Premier League games at White Hart Lane (W1 D3).
Indeed, Palace are the only side to have played more than once at White Hart Lane in the Premier League and remained unbeaten.
Since Tony Pulis has taken over, Palace have conceded just eight goals in eight league games (three clean sheets). They conceded 21 in the first 12 of the season (two clean sheets).
Manchester United v Swansea (1730)
'Must win' is a phrase we hear much too often in football, but at the very least this is surely a 'must not lose' game for Manchester United and manager David Moyes. Four defeats on the bounce would be a disaster, and with a trip to Stamford Bridge next week United would be staring at five whilst waving goodbye to their top-four prospects. I've always felt that Moyes would be given plenty of time to make things work at Old Trafford, but with the Guardian claiming senior players are questioning his credentials that may not be the case and another blow here could mark the beginning of the end. The good news for Moyes and co is that Swansea typically struggle at United, despite last week's 2-1 FA Cup win which owed at least a little to the fact United were playing with 10 men when conceding a late goal. Wayne Rooney could also return to the side and perhaps he can galvanise United into a big performance, the type they've simply not produced at home all season in truth. United will also do better for having Michael Carrick back in the side against opposition so comfortable on the ball and should be good enough to win. Quite obviously, though, the hosts can't be trusted at 1/2 and if pushed I'd rather chance Adnan Januzaj finding the net at close to 3/1. He's the one United player who appears full of confidence despite their woes and has started their last couple at home. With Swansea likely to enjoy plenty of possession, his pace on the counter could prove vital in what's expected to be an important United victory.
Verdict: Manchester United 2 Swansea 1
United have averaged more points per game in January (2.28) than any other team in Premier League history.
Swansea's victory in the Third Round of the FA Cup last weekend was their first ever at Old Trafford against Manchester United.
Swansea City have only won one of their last seven Barclays Premier League away games (D2 L4).
- Hull v Chelsea is live in the UK on BT Sport; Man Utd v Swansea is live on Sky Sports