Ed Chamberlin: A tale of one city
Ed Chamberlin looks at a Premier League title race that looks like being a Manchester battle, and the Hennessy Gold Cup.
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It's been a week that's seen Manchester's grip on the Premier League title race tighten. Wins against QPR and West Ham have resulted in United shortening up to even money while City's draw at Chelsea and win at Wigan saw the Champions consolidate their position as second favourites. Two blanks for Chelsea have resulted in them being pushed out to 7/1; it's looking more and more like a two-horse race.
Sky Bet must have loved Super Sunday. Two goalless draws at Swansea and Chelsea had the bookies smiling, while the headlines at Stamford Bridge were all made off the field. I have never experienced an atmosphere like it.
The Sky Sports studio is in the corner of the stadium by the Matthew Harding Stand and it was extraordinary to hear the chorus of boos and see the mass of derogatory signs when their new manager was introduced to the crowd.
As if Rafa Benitez didn't have enough on his plate. He has to win over the fans, stop conceding goals, satisfy the owner's demands for attractive football, all whilst juggling his squad during a brutal set of fixtures which include a trip to Japan for the Club World Cup. As Roberto Mancini said on Sunday, there's only one way to do it: win, win, win, win, win and win.
"Sky Bet must have loved Super Sunday. Two goalless draws at Swansea and Chelsea had the bookies smiling, while the headlines at Stamford Bridge were all made off the field. I have never experienced an atmosphere like it."
Wednesday's goalless draw with Fulham won't have helped and now Chelsea (10/11 to win with Sky Bet) go to West Ham (3/1) on Saturday, which will be another tough test.
I'll be heading to East Anglia this weekend for Super Sunday. Norwich (23/20) are up against Sunderland (12/5). The Canaries are so tough to beat at the moment and the home side has dominated this fixture of late winning each of the last seven League meetings, conceding just one goal. Sunderland's last League win at Norwich came 27 years ago - 3-1 in a top flight game in March 1985.
Eight days later, Norwich beat Sunderland in League Cup Final at Wembley.
After the show the Sky team will be heading back to London as Newcastle (20/21) meet Wigan (14/5) on the Monday Night Football. Newcastle have never lost at home to Wigan but are going through a very difficult patch at the moment.
Other things to bear in mind this weekend: I like the look of Tottenham (11/8) at Fulham on Saturday. Spurs have won the last five Premier League meetings with Fulham and are unbeaten in seven. Everton have an excellent recent record against City, winning eight of the last ten Premier League meetings and on four of their last five visits to the Etihad. Finally, Stoke have a 100% winning record at West Brom in the Premier League: three wins out of three, without conceding.
Hennessy Day at my local track is usually one of my favourite racedays of the year. However, this year feels a bit different as all the rain and heavy ground is threatening to spoil the card and the big race itself lacks its usual smattering of potential stars. We've been spoilt in the last few years with Denman targeting this race for his seasonal reappearance plus top-class winners like Trabolgan and Diamond Harry but the only potential Gold Cup contenders entered this year look like Bobs Worth and Flight Lieutenant, neither of whom are guaranteed to take their chance.
Bobs Worth is a horse I love after he did this column a big favour in the RSA Chase last season but he makes little betting appeal on Saturday. He's been a short price favourite with Sky Bet to win the Hennessy for a while but because it's not a top class renewal of the race, Bobs Worth is set to carry a big weight. That will be a tough task as will jumping out of the heavy ground. He's not the biggest and not a natural over the big fences so will have his work cut out. However Bobs Worth is such a tough customer that I'm sure he'll be in the mix in the home straight.
I'd rather back an outsider off a low weight in the horrible ground. Magnanimity fits the bill. Magnanimity was one of the top novices in Ireland two seasons ago, which culminated in an excellent fourth in the RSA Chase. However, not much went right for him last season, notably when blundering when looking like getting placed in the Irish Grand National.
He's come back looking much better this term with two second places. He ran really well and looked much more like his old self on his reappearance and then caught the eye behind Sizing Europe over an inadequate trip last time.
Magnanimity never stood a chance against that great horse over 2m 4f and was the first beaten in the race but stayed on really well to chase home the former champion chaser. That showed to me that like his name, Magnanimity is currently great in heart and mind and has dropped to an attractive mark these days. Back over a suitable trip and with ground that he relishes, I can see Magnanimity running a big race and will be backing him each-way at 12/1 with Sky Bet.
I'll be at Newbury on Thursday afternoon hoping to get off to a flying start in the Sky Bet Hennessy Meeting Tipping Competition. My two aims are to raise some money for the charity Cure For Dylan and to beat the esteemed Sporting Life Editor Dave Ord and tipping guru Graham Cunningham. You'll be able to follow the contest on Twitter @skysports_ed and @SkyBet I'm a 10/1 chance to win the competition, which I find amazing. I should be 33/1 at least!