Nil points for Sunderland
Ben Coley previews Saturday's action in the Premier League and is banking on Chelsea keeping another clean sheet.
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Jose Mourinho's side are four wins away from the title and while a trip to Liverpool means they're still second-favourites, it's hard to envisage them encountering the problems which saw Manchester City fail to see off Sunderland on Wednesday.
Before that evening kick-off, Southampton look set to further cement eighth place in the table with a win over Aston Villa.
Check out our match-by-match verdicts:
- 1pt Christian Eriksen to score at any time v Fulham at 21/10 (bet365, Paddy Power) - in fine scoring form and worth a small interest
- 2pts Southampton to beat Aston Villa at 5/4 (General) - unfortunate last week and still have plenty to play for against poor Villa outfit
- 3pts Chelsea to beat Sunderland to nil at evens (Sky Bet) - haven't conceded at home since January and Sunderland dealt late blow midweek
Tottenham v Fulham (1245 BST)
My first inclination here was to look for a price on Fulham who have finally come good under Felix Magath, securing vital back-to-back wins to make survival a marginal odds-on shot. There's work left to do but if they can get something here, it's possible they could even escape with something to spare having looked condemned for so long. However, for all that they've finally found form, a close look at Spurs' home record underlines how difficult a task this is. Under Tim Sherwood, their attacking approach has generally worked - although not always convincingly - with only Arsenal and Manchester City managing Premier League wins at White Hart Lane. They beat Sunderland 5-1 last time, Southampton 3-2 before that, plus Cardiff, Everton, Stoke and Crystal Palace without conceding, and that spells danger for Fulham, whose away win at Aston Villa doesn't look quite so impressive when viewed through the prism of their hosts' home form. Fulham have the division's worst away defensive record and Spurs, with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, will fancy their chances of running up a score once more. It could be worth considering Spurs to score three or more at 13/8, but the bet focuses on Eriksen who is worth backing to find the net at upwards of 2/1 given that he's scored six goals in nine starts in all competitions and is improving all the time. I've come to the conclusion that Fulham may yet claw their way out of trouble but that they'll do so having lost this one by a couple, with the impressive Dane once again the star.
Verdict: Tottenham 3 Fulham 1
Tottenham have won seven of their last eight Barclays Premier League meetings with Fulham, losing the other.
No side has taken fewer points from Premier League London derbies this season than Fulham (six).
Christian Eriksen has scored four goals and assisted three more in his last four Premier League appearances for Tottenham.
Aston Villa v Southampton (1500)
We're at the point in the season where every wager must run through a filter of incentive, but I believe there's enough for Southampton to justify backing them at odds-against. It's easy to view their defeat to Cardiff last week as strong evidence for incentive being vital - Cardiff's was clear, Southampton's less so - but that doesn't tell the full tale as I'm still not quite sure how Saints failed to convert at least a couple of their chances. Perhaps significantly, they still looked dangerous in attack and the likes of Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert can ill afford to ease off if they're to make Roy Hodgson's World Cup squad. Villa are a couple of points short of definite safety so they should be at it from the off but that's not enough to convince me they're about to turn around a home record which shows 10 defeats (only Fulham have lost more at home) and includes defeats to Fulham and Stoke recently, both of whom are notoriously poor on the road. Yes, they beat Chelsea and thumped Norwich prior to that, but those results appear the exception to a long-established rule. Saints have struggled in the face of some stiff tasks on the road of late but six wins and four draws from 17 reads perfectly well and they will also be keen to finish off the season in eighth, very much a best-of-the-rest position these days and no small feat if achieved. Southampton also won this fixture last year while Villa have had some problems behind the scenes of late and 5/4 about an away win looks to me to be the standout bet on the coupon.
Verdict: Aston Villa 1 Southampton 3
Aston Villa have lost four Premier League games in a row. They last lost five on the spin in January 2001.
Gabriel Agbonlahor has not scored or assisted a goal in any of his last eight Premier League games. Despite this he is Villa's top assister this season with five.
Southampton have allowed fewer shots from open play than any other Premier League side this season.
Cardiff v Stoke (1500)
Continuing the theme, with Stoke safely tucked into mid-table this is a game which clearly matters more to Cardiff. Throw in the old adage about Stoke being best supported at home and it's quite possible that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side will win back-to-back for the first time since August, when they beat Manchester City before winning at Accrington in the League Cup. But everything has its price and all of those factors have surely been considered in a quote of 6/4 about a home win. This implies a 40 per cent chance of victory and that's fully 10 per cent up on the rate at which Cardiff have been securing maximum points in front of their own fans. Of course, there's more to this than GCSE maths but we are talking about a side who lost their last home game 3-0, their previous one 6-3, and face opponents who - incentive or not - have lost just two of 11 since emerging from a January slump. Indeed, Stoke seem to be relishing their freedom and have showed no signs of stopping in fighting back from losing positions to draw at Norwich and win at Aston Villa, despite both opponents having greater incentive. Still, I couldn't bring myself to back them at just over 2/1 and if there's value in this game it's in the draw, which was the outcome when last these sides met. For those who do want to get with the side fighting for survival, I'd suggest you consider backing them to win by exactly one goal at 100/30. Six of their seven league wins have been via the minimum margin as have six of Stoke's 11 defeats on the road.
Verdict: Cardiff 2 Stoke 2
Cardiff are without a win in seven against the Potters in all competitions, drawing three and losing four.
Only 10 of Stoke's 43 points this season have come away from home.
Cardiff have not won back to back top-flight games since April 1962.
Newcastle v Swansea (1500)
Having looked long and hard at this fixture, it's really difficult to come down on either side. Newcastle have done remarkably well at times this season but they've suffered the odd slump and are in a real malaise at present, with one goal scored in over 500 minutes and four defeats on the trot. Swansea remain difficult to beat - their last five defeats in the league have been by a solitary goal - but they've not won away from home in the league since November and therefore surely can't be backed short of 2/1 and as favourites with some firms. Newcastle actually played better than the result in the reverse as they lost 3-0, and if absolutely forced to find something in terms of a prediction it'd be a home win. However, there are some strong trends which point towards Paddy Power's 10/11 about a goal during or after the 74th minute being too big. Chief among them is Newcastle's recent record - there's been a goal after the 87th minute in four of their last five games and that extends back to eight of their last nine. Go right back to the start of the season and the rate in terms of this specific market becomes 22 of 34 which still makes this price good value even if it's more recent figures which catch the eye. Swansea's corresponding figures are very similar overall and perhaps we're in for another late goal. Reasons for leaving this alone are that Newcastle can't be relied upon to contribute at present and betting on stats alone is always risky.
Verdict: Newcastle 1 Swansea 1
The Magpies have lost six of their last eight home league games, failing to score in all six defeats (W2).
Swansea have won their last three Barclays Premier League meetings with Newcastle, scoring six and conceding just once.
If the Premier League had begun on January 1, Swansea would be in 18th and Newcastle only one point and one place above them.
West Ham v Crystal Palace (1500)
Crystal Palace secured another impressive victory on Wednesday night as they march towards what would be a remarkable top-10 finish. In all probability, the fact that Stoke are also playing well and have a more straightforward run-in means Tony Pulis and his squad may have to settle for 11th or 12th, but it's been some turnaround and I'm not at all surprised to see them being supported to win here. West Ham have followed a similar course, albeit with slightly less success as Sam Allardyce once again defies his critics. Five defeats in seven could be read negatively but they've all been in games which saw West Ham priced as big underdogs and, despite the heroics of Palace, they do just about deserve favouritism at home. In terms of the match result, it's hard to find a clear edge on the layers and it's equally difficult to form a strong opinion. These are two sides playing well, just about free from relegation worries and none of the three results would come as a surprise. Accordingly, the inclination is to edge towards Palace but the Hammers have had extra recovery time and that may act as some sort of leveller - just enough of a concern to lead me away from the away side at 6/4 in the draw-no-bet market. My colleague Andy Schooler highlighted the scoring run of Jason Puncheon when previewing Wednesday's games and the Palace man lived up to the billing, finding the net for the fourth time in three starts. At just short of 4/1 he looks worth considering to find the net once more but ultimately this is a game which makes no real appeal from a betting perspective, albeit I'm sure many will look to side with the visitors.
Verdict: West Ham 1 Crystal Palace 1
West Ham have only lost one of their 12 previous home league games against Crystal Palace (W6 D5).
Crystal Palace have won just five of their 24 away London derbies in the Barclays Premier League (D5 L14).
Only once in top-flight history have Palace won five games in a row before (December 1992).
Chelsea v Sunderland (1730)
Sunderland's midweek draw at Manchester City serves as a reminder to all of us: there are no good-things. In the run-up to the game it'd have taken a particularly bullish away fan with a very weak grip on reality to make a case for anything but a home win, yet as events transpired the army of Sunderland support at the Etihad were left wondering what might've been. And therein may lie the key to their hopes of another upset of sorts. That late City equaliser from Samir Nasri, which came at least in part due to a Vito Mannone error, may have left the Sunderland players resigned to the fact that their survival bid isn't meant to be. It was a devastating blow and one which they'll do well to respond from against a Chelsea side who know they're four wins away from the title. Jose Mourinho's side may have made some mistakes on the road, but at home they've been in irrepressible form having not conceded since mid-January - that's a run of over 700 minutes. Given that opponents during this spell include Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and PSG, another home win to nil looks a huge price at evens. Sunderland have found the net at City, Spurs and Liverpool but Chelsea are a different proposition altogether defensively; there's little doubt to me that something in the region of 8/13 is a more realistic price, particularly in light of the statistics offered below.
Verdict: Chelsea 3 Sunderland 0
Chelsea have won 17 of their last 18 Barclays Premier League meetings with Sunderland (L1).
The Black Cats have failed to score in six of their last nine Barclays Premier League games at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea have conceded only nine times at home this season, fewer than any other side, and are the only unbeaten home team in the top four English divisions this season.