Improving Reds to bridge the gap
Ben Coley and Ben Linfoot combine to preview all four of Sunday's games in the Barclays Premier League.
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Everton lost at home for the first time this season on Boxing Day and face a stern test of their top-four credentials here. Those who doubt their ability to maintain what's been an excellent first half(ish) of the season will point to a lack of strength in depth, and that's exactly what's about to be tested. Roberto Martinez rightly had no complaints with his side's endeavour as they failed valiantly to come back from the loss of a goal and a player against Sunderland, but the repercussions of that game mean he's without suspended pair Tim Howard and Gareth Barry and those selected to turn out again are entitled to be extremely tired. Such has been the quality of Everton's performances throughout the season that in many ways it's hard to envisage back-to-back home defeats, but there's little doubt that Southampton have a good chance to capitalise on the hosts' troubles here. Saints had gone off the boil themselves prior to a straightforward victory at Cardiff, their third away win of the season but first in over three months. However, that result should put them back on track and with a solid defence and dynamic attack they're a side who should enjoy playing away from home at decent sides - they showed as much despite losing at Arsenal, led at half-time against Chelsea and have of course won at Anfield. So, all things considered it makes sense to get with the visitors, it's just a matter of deciding how to do so. On the one hand, a straightforward win bet at 4/1 is the obvious call but you can almost double that price if you back them to win to nil - six of Southampton's seven league wins have come without concession and with Romelu Lukaku without a goal in five games, Everton could again struggle to fire. Alternatively, you can pay due respect to Everton's home record and back Southampton draw no bet at 9/4. However, my preferred policy again seeks to capitalise on Everton's potential scoring problems with Jay Rodriguez a fine each-way bet to score first at 9/1. The England international has been thriving away from home, with five goals in his last five, and has scored first in three of those, including away at Chelsea. He could take advantage of Barry's absence and find the space required to fire Southampton in front.
Verdict: Everton 0 Southampton 1 (BC)
Jay Rodriguez has scored seven goals in his last 10 Premier League games for Southampton with five of the last six coming away from home.
Romelu Lukaku has gone five successive Premier League appearances and 451 minutes without scoring in the competition.
Eight of Everton's Premier League goals this season have come from defenders - more than any other club.
Bookmakers are paying maximum respect to in-form Newcastle here to the extent that Arsenal look a very decent bet at odds-against. The hosts have won seven in nine and that includes the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United, so of course this is a test for Arsene Wenger's side. However, they'll be feeling good about life having returned to the top of the table with an important 3-1 victory at West Ham and their away record stands up under scrutiny. Yes, Arsenal have lost at both Manchester clubs but they've won six and drawn one of their other seven away games - that's a win rate of 66.67% overall - and there's little to suggest they won't be able to maintain that sort of level here. Yes, Wenger's squad is arguably the thinnest of the Premier League title contenders but Alan Pardew has even more problems in that regard, and while his side won 5-1 on Boxing Day we must remember that they were 1-0 down before Stoke self-destructed and gifted Newcastle three points. Prior to that, they'd drawn with Southampton and scraped past Norwich and West Brom at home, two of the division's worst sides at present, so close inspection of their form reveals one or two holes. Arsenal will be without the excellent Aaron Ramsey but Jack Wilshere is available again and this is the sort of stage on which he thrives. The Gunners could also welcome back Laurent Koscielny and while Olivier Giroud has struggled somewhat, the visitors can call upon attacking threats from all over the pitch. Arsenal haven't lost here since 2005 (that was with 10 men) and an away win looks odds-on - albeit only just - to me.
Verdict: Newcastle 1 Arsenal 2 (BC)
Arsenal have lost just one of their last 12 Barclays Premier League games at St James Park (D7 L4).
Newcastle have conceded a total of 14 goals in their last five Premier League games against Arsenal.
Alongside Spurs, Arsenal have won the most points away from home in the Premier League this season (19).
Chelsea look a terrible price at slightly odds-against to beat in-form Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Jose Mourinho's side are struggling for goals from all areas of the pitch at present with just two scored in their last three games, while their strikers have been out of form all season. They have won their last two home games against Crystal Palace and Swansea, but only by a goal on each occasion and Liverpool offer a much sterner test. The Reds have been flying since they lost 3-1 at Hull, scoring 17 goals in four subsequent victories, while they put in the best performance from an away side at the Etihad this season when rather unluckily falling to a 2-1 defeat against Manchester City on Boxing Day. In their last five games at Stamford Bridge Liverpool have won three and drawn one and with Luis Suarez pulling the strings they will be confident of getting something from their trip to Chelsea. One note of caution is Liverpool's average defending at set-pieces. They conceded another from a corner when Vincent Kompany scored with a header on Boxing Day and John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz could all threaten in the air. With Chelsea struggling for goals that trio could be the home side's most potent threat and they are worth a second glance in the goalscorer markets. But in the outright market, Liverpool make plenty of appeal on current form and should be backed at 13/5.
Verdict: Chelsea 1 Liverpool 2 (BL)
Chelsea have lost three and won just one of their last five Barclays Premier League home meetings with the Reds (D1).
The Reds have scored more goals in 2013 than any other Premier League side (83).
Chelsea have never lost a Premier League home game under Jose Mourinho, but when the original unbeaten run continued after he left Chelsea in 2007, Liverpool were the team who ended it (October 2008).
Without question the least appealing game on Super Sunday. Tottenham have as many points as Manchester United and remain better than many would have you believe, but the remarkable decision to hand Tim Sherwood the reins, combined with a very poor home record, means it'd be madness to back them at 1/2. Whatever your thoughts on Sherwood, this is a side who've won just three of nine at home and the most recent of those came in October. It goes without saying that Stoke are at their best at home - only Crystal Palace have lost more on the road - but they were 1-0 up at Newcastle on Boxing Day and frustrating Spurs in this fixture is nothing new to them. Indeed, in each of the last two seasons Stoke have returned home with a point and if you must have a bet in the match market then 100/30 about a stalemate looks fair. Another market in which bookmakers may be overrating the hosts is total goals, with evens available about fewer than three. Six of Spurs' nine home games have seen fewer than three goals scored and that includes all three of their wins. Stoke haven't been as hard to break down as they can be on the road but even so, four of their nine games have seen backers of under 2.5 goals paid out and I'm surprised the prices don't lean slightly towards a low-scoring game. Obviously, they have suspension issues following two red cards on Boxing Day so perhaps Spurs can take advantage but, as mentioned, backing them simply isn't an option. Prices close to 6/4 about them winning to nil are more appealing but Spurs aren't to be trusted with money at the moment.
Verdict: Tottenham 1 Stoke 0 (BC)
The Potters have only failed to score in two of their 10 previous Barclays Premier League meetings with Spurs.
Spurs have conceded a goal in each of their last eight Premier League matches - no side is currently on a longer run than this.
At White Hart Lane, Tottenham have only managed to score more than one goal in two of their last 11 games in the Premier League.