City to take control of title race
Ian Ogg and Ben Coley preview Saturday's Premier League games with Man City fancied to land a vital three points.
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Ian is tempted by the likes of West Ham and Manchester United, with the latter fancied to make it two wins out of two under Ryan Giggs, but ultimately opts to keep his powder dry on a tricky Saturday.
Ben however thinks Manchester City are poised to take control of the battle for the Premier League title when they head to Everton.
Check out our match-by-match verdicts:
West Ham v Tottenham (1245 BST)
Football fans could be in for a treat in the lunchtime kick-off with Spurs' last seven game realising 30 goals...or not. Quite what the lugubrious Sam Allardyce made of Chelsea's performances against Liverpool and Atletico Madrid following Mourinho's well-publicised remarks earlier in the season only he knows but we're unlikely to see the Hammers spraying the ball about the park a la Barcelona any time soon. Sherwood, in contrast, is committed to attacking football while his side also showed plenty of stomach for the fight in a bruising encounter with Stoke at the weekend. West Ham have won both encounters this season by an aggregate of 5-1 and another three points would come in handy as they look to arrest their alarming slide towards the drop zone having lost seven of their last nine, including their last four. Spurs, in contrast, are unbeaten in four - winning three - and are making a late charge for European football. That has seen them chalked up at odds-on but it's not difficult to envisage Andy Carroll et al causing problems for their defence and they're not a team I can trust at that price. It's tempting to find an angle to side with the Hammers but temptation is best resisted so let's move on.
Verdict: West Ham 1 Tottenham 1 (IO)
Andy Carroll has scored in both previous meetings with Tottenham as a West Ham player, but has ended up on the losing side both times.
Tottenham have won nine and lost just two of their last 13 Barclays Premier League meetings with the Hammers (D2).
West Ham and Tottenham are both unbeaten in 1245 kick-offs this season.
Aston Villa v Hull City (1500)
Villa are another side in desperate need of a win after taking just one point from the last 18 and, with away games to Manchester City and Spurs to follow, this fixture represents their best chance of guaranteeing Premier League football for the West Midlands. Hull haven't scored against the Villa since beating them 2-1 in August 1987 and have lost seven of their eight subsequent encounters with the exception being this season's 0-0 draw at the KC Stadium. The headlines are unlikely to be reporting news of a thriller at the Villa - for neutrals at least - with the Tigers hardly prolific on the road. Paul Lambert has a young squad and the enormity of this match plus their awful form could prove too much for them whereas Hull should be capable of limping over the line to Premiership safety and are buoyed by their upcoming FA Cup Final appearance. They fought back well against Fulham with Steve Bruce highlighting the importance of strikers and that has been felt keenly at Villa Park with the injured Christian Benteke unable to reproduce his heroics of last season. Leandro Bacuna and Fabian Delph have contributed some vital goals from midfield and may represent the home team's best chance of getting on the scoresheet in a tight encounter where the draw may well suit both sides.
Verdict: Aston Villa 0 Hull 0 (IO)
Aston Villa have won four and lost none of five previous Barclays Premier League meetings with the Tigers, keeping a clean sheet in all five games.
Shane Long has scored four goals in 13 appearances for Hull after bagging three in 15 for West Brom earlier in the season.
Gabriel Agbonlahor has scored 13 Premier League goals since the start of last season but only three of them have come at Villa Park.
Manchester United v Sunderland (1500)
Seven points and eight goals (including five from Connor Wickham) have seen Sunderland grasping terra firma but the soil could start to slip through their fingertips if they slip to defeat at Old Trafford. United could hardly have asked for more willing opponents than Norwich in their first game post-Moyes but the Mackems have their tails up and could prove to be a different proposition and odds of 9/1 (and 7s draw no bet) seem rather insulting to Gus Poyet's resurgent outfit. At that sort of price it's certainly tempting to take a chance on them bringing a halt to a run of six successive league defeats against United and the handicap markets could well be worth checking out with that in mind. However, there is a gulf in class in the sides and, now that United's attacking players have been let off the leash, that could be reflected on the pitch as the squad grows in confidence and looks to end the season on a high. Goals are expected and even over 3.5 is just a fraction better than odds against (1/2 about over 2.5 seems perfectly fair and would have collected in eight of Sunderland's last nine away games in the league) while United themselves are prohibitively short. Sunderland have scored in their three meetings with the Old Trafford side this season so backing United to win and both teams to score at just under 2/1 is considered but passed over.
Verdict: Man Utd 4 Sunderland 1 (IO)
Manchester United have won 10 and lost none of their 12 Barclays Premier League home games against Sunderland (D2).
The Black Cats are without a win in 23 league games against the Red Devils overall, taking just five points in total in that spell (D5 L18).
Adnan Januzaj scored a brace on his first ever Premier League start in this season's reverse fixture with Sunderland (2-1 to Manchester United).
Newcastle v Cardiff (1500)
With a home game against Chelsea to come, the Bluebirds need to win this to have any chance of extending their stay in the top-flight and there could hardly be a better time to play Newcastle who have lost their last six by an aggregate of 17 goals to one and appear to be in disarray. Cardiff are 3/1 in a place and it's easy to see that price tempting people in but they were reportedly pretty awful against Sunderland, even before Juan Cala's sending off on the stroke of half-time, and are bottom of the table for a reason. Similarly, I couldn't possibly back the Geordies given their form and it's hard to know what to expect when those two teams walk out onto the pitch. We certainly know what to expect from Craig Bellamy and odds of 14/1 about a player of his talent in the first goalscorer market make some appeal with bet365's generous each-way terms despite the fact that he only has one goal to his name this season. Loic Remy has 12 more to his tally and the on-loan striker should still be striving to put himself in the shop window and this Cardiff defence may well present him with a suitable opportunity to display his talents. The 4/1 first goalscorer and 6/5 anytime would make some appeal but for the fact that Newcastle have failed to score in five of their last six which also makes it difficult to justify the short quotes about both teams to score and the overs.
Verdict: Newcastle 2 Cardiff 1 (IO)
Newcastle have won their last seven league games against Cardiff; a run that goes back to 1981.
Both meetings between these sides this season (one league, one FA Cup) have ended 2-1 to the away side.
If the Premier League season had started on December 27, Newcastle would be bottom of the table.
Cardiff have conceded 24 goals in the final 15 minutes this season; more than any other Premier League side.
Stoke v Fulham (1500)
There's no question whose need is greater here as Fulham desperately seek the points they need to hold any hope of surviving. Unfortunately, desire will only get you so far and there are more negatives than positives to take from their draw with Hull last week. The chief negative is of course the result, but the manner of a 2-2 draw in which they led 2-0 along with the fact that they look short of quality and resolution means they're in big trouble. Stoke still have a little bit of work to do for a top-half finish and should really have eyes on Newcastle's ninth place. A 1-0 defeat last week might've been disappointing for us but Spurs are on a fine run of form and are clearly a good deal more able than Fulham, and were this game in the middle of the season I'd make Stoke a good bet at odds-against for the simple reason that they win more often than that price implies at home, particularly against sides like Fulham. However, there will be a desperation in the visitors that brings with it volatility and I've no inclination to wager on the outcome of this one.
Verdict: Stoke 1 Fulham 0 (BC)
Only the Barclays Premier League's top five have taken more points at home than Stoke City this season (33).
If only away points counted this season, Fulham would be outside the relegation zone on 14 points, while Stoke would be in it with just 11.
Fulham have conceded 79 goals. The last three teams to concede as many in the top-flight and not go down are Wigan (79 in 2009-10), Oxford (80 in 1985-86) and Luton (84 in 1982-83).
Swansea v Southampton (1500)
Injuries have hit Southampton's season and the loss of Jay Rodriguez has had more of an impact on their goalscoring threat with the Saints scoring just one goal (excluding the two scored by Everton on their behalf) since he went off injured against Manchester City. Swansea, in contrast, put four past Aston Villa to confirm the retention of their Premier League status having previously accounted for Newcastle. That may just have released the shackles from Gary Monk's side after a difficult campaign and Wilfried Bony has stepped up to the plate in the absence of Michu with four goals in those two contests and 15 in the league in total. The Ivorian can be backed at 5/1 to open the scoring and 6/4 to find the back of the onion bag at anytime which are by no means without appeal but Swansea have a miserable record against the teams in the top half of the table this season and I'm rather loathe to get involved in a fixture that has such an end of term feel to it.
Verdict: Swansea 1 Southampton 1 (IO)
Swansea have scored in 16 of their 18 home league games this season; only Chelsea and Fulham (17) have scored in more (Arsenal, Liverpool & Man City also on 16).
Southampton are without a win in seven away league games against Swansea (D3 L4), not winning there since January 1962.
Swansea are the top scoring team in the bottom half of the table (51 goals - only one fewer than sixth-placed Tottenham).
Everton v Manchester City (1730)
In a product of the fixture list generator (or a quirk of fate if you prefer), Liverpool fans will be forced to hope for an Everton win to keep alive their dreams of a first Premier League title. Three wins for Manchester City will secure them their second, but with Aston Villa and West Ham to follow - both at home - it does rather feel like they're actually just one away from taking full control of this enthralling race. Unfortunately for Manuel Pellegrini's side, history says that Goodison Park is towards the bottom of their list of desirable places to visit in such times of need. Their last four trips west have ended in defeat and they've not done especially well in the reverse either. Everton will still feel like a top-four place is just about possible if they win here and don't for one second buy into any vague suggestion that they'll be non-triers so as to scupper their great rivals. All of this should make Everton the bet at close to 4/1 but I'm not sure it's that simple. Crucially, Roberto Martinez will be without Gareth Barry who is not eligible to play against his parent club, and it's possible that one or both of Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin will remain absent, as it is that Leighton Baines won't have fully recovered from a minor knock. In addition, Everton have lost two of their last three and while both against more than respectable opposition, they were a little lifeless against Southampton last week and the wind may have gone from their sails. City on the other hand have seen their title prospects turned around once more and it was noticeable how quick they were to take advantage of Liverpool's defeat to Chelsea, scoring inside five minutes at Selhurst Park on their way to a ruthless victory. There's a feeling that, like two years ago, they're ready to take advantage of a reprieve having looked set to come up just short and they'll know a win here piles enormous pressure onto Liverpool. I expect them to take care of business and will back them to lead at half-time on their way to three points.
Verdict: Everton 1 Manchester City 3 (BC)
Everton have won nine of their last 13 Barclays Premier League meetings with Manchester City (D1 L3).
The Citizens have lost their last four league games at Goodison Park and have won just one of their last 15 (D4 L10).
Since the start of December, City have taken more points away from home (27) than any other team.
Six of Man City's last seven Premier League goals have come before half-time.