Expect a cagey Welsh derby
Ben Coley and Sam Pollock preview all eight of Saturday's games in the Barclays Premier League.
- 2pts Arsenal to beat Liverpool at 5/2 (BetVictor) - Arsenal thrive in this fixture and are overpriced on everything we know.
- 2.5pts Man City (-1) to beat Norwich at 9/10 (BetVictor) - Norwich struggle in these games and City should bounce back in style
- 1pt Crystal Palace to beat West Brom at 31/20 (BetVictor) - winning their key fixtures and Baggies aren't good away from home.
- 1pt Aston Villa to beat West Ham by exactly a goal at 14/5 (BetVictor, Ladbrokes) - tight game in store but Villa can build on West Brom win here
- 1pt Southampton to beat Stoke to nil at 6/4 (Betway) - Stoke struggling for goals on the road and Southampton should win well
Liverpool v Arsenal (1245 GMT)
I had all sorts of ideas about this game. I thought about Liverpool leading at the break but failing to win on the grounds that they often start brightly and Arsenal tend to produce their best after the break. I toyed with Santi Cazorla to score first on account on his improved form and exceptional performances against Liverpool. Over 2.5 goals looks solid given historical evidence even if Arsenal have improved massively at the back. Both teams to score, ditto. But Arsenal are 5/2 and that, I have to say, is the wrong price whichever way you choose to interpret the facts on offer. Here are a few: Arsenal are top of the league and eight points ahead of Liverpool. Arsenal have lost just twice away from home and top the away form table with eight wins from 14 matches. Arsenal have drawn three and won three of their last six trips to Anfield. Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-0 in the reverse fixture. Arsenal are the only side to face Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge together this season and prevent both from scoring. There are, of course, facts which point to Liverpool - none more so than 10 home wins from 12 this season - but I can't see how anyone can look at this game and consider a home win significantly more likely than any other result. The reason for the price has a lot to do with money from the Far East but whatever the case, Arsenal should be backed despite clear improvement from Liverpool over the last 18 or so months. To be clear, Arsenal are not certainties by any means and Liverpool will present a thorough examination of the Gunners' title credentials. But Arsenal's prospects of winning this game look to be just short of 40% and not, as is implied by the price, less than 30%.
Verdict: Liverpool 1 Arsenal 2 (BC)
Liverpool have won just one of their last 13 Premier League games against Arsenal (W1 D7 L5) and none of the last six at Anfield (W0 D3 L3).
Arsenal have trailed in five of the last six Premier League games against Liverpool at Anfield and come back to win two and draw three of those five where they fell behind.
Arsenal have won six and lost none of their last seven Premier League games and netted exactly two goals in each of the last five.
Aston Villa v West Ham (1500)
We all know about the problems Aston Villa have encountered at home this season but this weekend's game against West Ham could prove to be somewhat of a turning point for Paul Lambert's side. Having won only two of their 12 games at Villa Park this season, they find themselves second bottom of the home table in the Premier League. Only Fulham have a worse record which says it all really. Even though they currently sit 10th the league, they are only five points from the relegation zone and last week's West Midlands derby victory against West Brom was their first win at home in seven. Villa will certainly be looking to carry this momentum into the game against West Ham in what could be a massive weekend at the foot of the table. Villa could move eight points clear of the drop zone with a win, but if their dreadful home form is to continue then they could find themselves just two points from safety come Sunday night. West Ham's task hasn't been made any easier with the midweek news that Andy Carroll will serve a three-match ban after his appeal for the red card was dismissed by the FA. Hammers boss Sam Allardyce will have to turn to Carlton Cole, who has scored just four goals in 14 games, or new signing Marco Borriello, who is yet to make an appearance for his new side let alone score a goal. The problems don't stop there for Big Sam who has seen his defence concede 28 times in their last 11 games. On this evidence, Aston Villa to win by exactly one goal at 11/4 is worth taking a look at. With very little to separate the two sides I think we can expect a close encounter at Villa Park on Saturday.
Verdict: Aston Villa 2 West Ham 1 (SP)
Villa have won three and lost just one of their last six Barclays Premier League games against the Hammers.
Christian Benteke has scored in three of his last four Premier League appearances for Villa.
Kevin Nolan has scored five Barclays Premier League goals against Aston Villa, more than against any other opponent apart from Sunderland (6).
Chelsea v Newcastle (1500)
Jose Mourinho described his side as the 'little horse that needs milk and needs to learn how to jump' after the 1-0 victory over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Monday night. I'm not sure who he's trying to fool but he certainly isn't pulling the wool over my eyes. Going in to the game against Newcastle, the Blues will be looking to extend their 72 match unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge under Mourinho, winning 56 and drawing just 16. Sitting comfortably in third, Chelsea haven't lost in the Premier League since they were beaten 3-2 by Stoke at the Britannia in early December. The stats keep stacking up in favour of Jose's side who boast the best defence in the Premier League, having only conceded 20 goals all season. Impressive I know. If you were looking for one fault in the Chelsea side then it would certainly come in the form of the strikers. Fernando Torres and Demba Ba have only scored five goals between them in the league, leaving Samuel Eto'o to lead the line. However with seven goals in his last seven games in all competitions at Stamford Bridge, the Cameroon international is well worth a look at 3/1 to be the first goalscorer. Newcastle will go in to the game with a glimmer of hope, knowing that a much maligned West Ham side somehow manage a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge just over a week ago. However there will be questions over team moral after a turbulent week at St James' Park. Following a rather embarrassing 3-0 loss to Sunderland last weekend, Joe Kinnear then resigned as Newcastle's director of football on Monday night having not made a permanent signing during his time at the club. Newcastle have lost four of their six Premier League games since beating Stoke 5-1 on Boxing Day, so you can look no further than Chelsea in this fixture.
Verdict: Chelsea 2 Newcastle 0 (SP)
Eden Hazard has embarked on 162 dribbles in the Premier League this season, more than any other player.
Alan Pardew's side have failed to score in five of their last six Premier League games, losing four and winning just one in this run.
Since losing 3-2 at Stoke, Chelsea have conceded only three goals in nine games.
Crystal Palace v West Brom (1500)
Palace landed us a 14/5 winner by beating Hull 1-0 in their last home Premier League game, having been tipped to win to nil. The justification for the selection was that they've won six times since Tony Pulis took over, plus once on the day he sat in the stands having just been appointed, and on each occasion they did so with a clean sheet. Last week Palace held firm for 45 minutes against Arsenal and lost little in a 2-0 defeat, and back at Selhurst Park they can be fancied to chalk up another vital win. West Brom also performed admirably last weekend and deserved their point against Liverpool. However, Pepe Mel's side have won just once away from home all season (albeit at Old Trafford), and were awful at the back when adding their names to a small list of teams to lose at Aston Villa. In fairness to them, they do possess more of an attacking threat than Stoke and Hull, Palace's two latest victims, but couldn't breach the Palace defence in an FA Cup clash at The Hawthorns so I wouldn't put anyone off taking 100/30 about another win and clean sheet combination for Pulis. However, at bigger than 6/4 I think it'll pay to keep this simple and take Palace to produce another vital home victory.
Verdict: Crystal Palace 2 West Brom 1 (BC)
Crystal Palace have won three and lost just one of the last seven meetings with West Brom in all competitions.
West Brom and Crystal Palace have already met twice this season, with the Baggies winning 2-0 in the Barclays Premier League and Palace 2-0 in the FA Cup, both games at the Hawthorns.
The Eagles have kept five clean sheets in their last seven Premier League games at Selhurst Park.
Norwich v Manchester City (1500)
I've written about Norwich's record against the best teams in the division before but for the purposes of this preview, it's worth revisiting. Since an opening-day draw with Everton, they've lost 2-0 to Tottenham, 3-1 to Chelsea, 4-1 to Arsenal, 7-0 to City, 5-1 to Liverpool, 1-0 to United and 2-0 to Everton. It was a similar story last year as they lost heavily at Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, but in fairness to them they did somehow win at the Etihad - although the fact that said victory came on the last day of a disappointing season for City says plenty. And while some may suggest that City's defeat to Chelsea on Monday demonstrated fallibility, the reality is they could be even more dangerous on the back of it. When they lost 3-2 to Cardiff, they beat Hull 2-0 in their next Premier League game. Nothing to shout about, admittedly. But when they lost to Aston Villa, they responded with a 3-1 victory against Everton. Better yet, when they lost to Chelsea earlier this season their next league game came against Norwich and they ran out thumping 7-0 winners. For what it's worth, they followed their other league defeat by smashing six past Sunderland. Unlike those four games, City are away this time but I'm not sure that will stop them given how woeful Norwich are when faced with this type of challenge. As such, the decision here is simple with BetVictor's 9/10 about City minus a goal on the handicap well worth taking advantage of. City have covered the one-goal handicap in five of their last seven away games since that famous win at Bayern. They remain the best team in the division in my eyes and should be poised for a convincing victory.
Verdict: Norwich 1 Manchester City 4 (BC)
There have been 37 goals scored in the last six Barclays Premier League meetings between Norwich and Man City.
Manchester City have won their last three Premier League trips to Carrow Road, scoring 13 and conceding six times.
Manchester City have not lost successive Premier League games since October 2010.
Edin Dzeko has scored three goals in four Barclays Premier League games against Norwich.
Southampton v Stoke (1500)
For whatever reason, Southampton are a side I struggle to get right but in truth they've only really disappointed once all season, when losing at home to Aston Villa. Aside from that they've been mightily impressive despite murmurs of discontent behind the scenes, with most defeats coming at the hands of sides inside the top six or seven in the division. Indeed, even the Villa defeat looks better when viewed through the prism of the away form table and that's why Saints deserve 4/7 quotes to beat Stoke, who aren't known for their exploits on the road. Mark Hughes's side arrive here buoyed by a 2-1 win over Manchester United but that was at the Britannia and you have to go right back to August for their sole Premier League away win. It is extremely hard to see them adding a second here at St Mary's. The way to get with the hosts might be to back them to score two or more, as they have done in two-thirds of all home games this season. It's priced up at 4/5 which looks fair, but I'm slightly put off by the fact that Stoke have steadied the ship away from home, conceding just once in each of their last three. Instead, then, a home win to nil is probably the value call. Southampton have won to nil four times at home but the opposition is worth noting - Palace, Swansea, Fulham and West Brom. None of those four have travelled particularly well all year and they're all involved in the relegation scrap. Stoke are of similar quality and have scored just once away from home since November making 6/4 look fair.
Verdict: Southampton 2 Stoke 0 (BC)
Stoke have failed to score in five of their last six Premier League away games and have gone 331 minutes without a goal.
The Potters have gone eight games without a clean sheet in the Premier League.
Jay Rodriguez has scored seven goals and assisted two more in his last 12 Premier League appearances.
Sunderland v Hull (1500)
Sunderland are tempting here - but not quite tempting enough. Gus Poyet's side have climbed to 14th in the table and have won three and drawn one of their last four, including last week's thumping of Newcastle. Meanwhile, Hull have started to struggle, and have lost their last three away league games without troubling the scorer. But should Sunderland be quite as close to evens as they are? I'm not so sure. In fact, I think they should be around the 6/4 mark and that's why, while I fancy them to win, I will avoid backing them. It probably won't have escaped your attention that Adam Johnson has played a big part in Sunderland's improved form but it definitely hasn't escaped the attention of the layers, who have him among the favourites to score first at 15/2. In fairness, having found the net in five of his last seven appearances you can make a case for 29/10 about a goal at any time being fair, but again it's considerably shorter than has been quoted in recent weeks and is just about left alone. Expect a close game and one Sunderland may edge.
Verdict: Sunderland 1 Hull 0 (BC)
Sunderland have won six of their last seven encounters with Hull City.
Hull have scored only one Barclays Premier League goal in 2014, fewer than other side.
Sunderland have taken 10 points in 2014 (W3 D1 L1), only the top four sides have collected more.
If only the second halves of games counted this season, Hull would be adrift at the bottom of the Premier League table by five points.
Swansea v Cardiff (1730)
The second South Wales derby of the season is set to take on even more significance with Premier League survival at stake. The news on Tuesday night that Swansea had decided to part company with Michael Laudrup came as a surprise to everybody and has thrown the result of this match in to more doubt. Having only one win from the last 10 Premier League games, Swansea have been on the slide ever since winning the Capital One Cup last February. Having played 35 games since beating Bradford City 5-0 at Wembley to win the clubs first piece of silverware, Swansea have seen their win rate drop from 33% to just 23%. The stats continue to make grim reading for Swansea fans with their loss rate and average goals conceded increasing and their average goals scored and points per game massively decreasing. With star striker Michu requiring an ankle operation that has kept him out for six weeks, the pressure has been firmly placed on the shoulders of Wilfried Bony. All seven of the Ivorian international's Premier League goals have come in Wales so if the Swans are to have any chance of getting back to winning ways they will need Bony firing on all cylinders. Cardiff on the other hand will be buoyed by their 2-1 win over Norwich at the weekend and will look to carry this momentum into the game against fellow strugglers Swansea. The acquisition of Wilfried Zaha on transfer deadline day has no doubt given boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a massive boost of surviving the drop but with just two wins in 10 in the Premier League, they will need to start winning games sooner rather than later. In that respect it's a game that neither team can afford to lose so at 3/1, a draw and under 2.5 goals in the match is a perfectly good price in what looks set to be a cagey affair on Saturday evening.
Verdict: Swansea 1 Cardiff 1 (SP)
The last three South Wales derbies have ended 1-0 (two wins for Cardiff, one for Swansea).
If Premier League games ended at half-time so far this season, Cardiff would be bottom by seven points, Swansea would be 19th.
If Swansea lose this match it will be the first time they've ever lost three consecutive league games to their arch-rivals.