Chamberlin: Title race hotting up
Sky Sports presenter Ed Chamberlin looks ahead to more Premier League action and the Cheltenham countdown in his latest column.
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We are set for a brilliant weekend of Premier League football on Sky Sports with Manchester United, Manchester City, Newcastle, Liverpool and Arsenal all featuring on our live coverage.
On Super Sunday I'll be based at the Britannia Stadium but our first game gives Manchester City another test on the road at St James' Park. There are signs that their away form is clicking in to gear and they were impressive on Sky on New Year's Day at Swansea where the 3-2 scoreline didn't tell the full story.
They are also heading to Wembley after another irresistible display at home on Wednesday night. A win on Sunday at Newcastle would make another statement and send out a message to Liverpool and Arsenal ahead of their games this weekend.
We will then focus on the Britannia Stadium for Liverpool's match against Stoke. It seems an age ago that Liverpool won 1-0 at Anfield on the opening day of the season with Daniel Sturridge scoring the winner and Simon Mignolet marking his debut with a late penalty save from Jonathan Walters.
They've had contrasting journeys since then and both had highly eventful Christmas weeks. Liverpool were top of the Premier League on Christmas Day yet went in to 2014 down in fifth place.
Stoke were in front at Newcastle on Boxing Day before two of their players sent off and they conceded five goals, they were then thrashed at Spurs before returning home and getting another really good result against Everton. Mark Hughes' side are now unbeaten in their last seven League games at home and are looking much more like their normal selves at the Britannia.
They also have a decent record against Liverpool here. Stoke have won the last three meetings and are unbeaten in all five Premier League home games against Liverpool (W3 D2).
"A win for Man City on Sunday at Newcastle would make another statement and send out a message to Liverpool and Arsenal ahead of their games this weekend."
The Britannia Stadium is one of five grounds that Liverpool have failed to win at along with Bramall Lane (3 visits), City Ground (5), Bloomfield Road (1) and the Liberty Stadium (3). Liverpool are an 8/13 chance with Sky Bet to put that right on a Sunday.
Monday Night Football also returns this weekend and the live game is Aston Villa against the leaders Arsenal.
Again it seems an eternity ago since the boos at the Emirates that followed Villa's opening day success. Bookmakers could not push Arsenal out quick enough after that defeat and who'd have thought then that the Gunners would start the year as just a 4/1 chance to win the title.
Villa have been having a nightmare at home. Only Sunderland have a worse home record than them this season and they have not won in last four League games at Villa Park and have won one of last seven games here.
The pain has been exacerbated for the home fans by the game exit from the FA Cup and they've only seen seven League goals at Villa Park this season and one in the last four. Villa struggle to break sides down and will have their work cut out to get past Arsenal's defense.
The Gunners' dynamic and 'interchanging' midfield has hogged the headlines but the back five have conceded the fewest Premier League goals (18) and kept the most clean sheets (9) this season.
In fact, Arsenal have conceded only three goals in 11 of last 12 Premier League games either side of the 6-3 defeat against Manchester City on December 14.
That all points to Arsenal winning to nil at 7/4 with Sky Bet, which makes even more appeal with Arsenal's brilliant record at Villa Park. They are unbeaten in the last 14 Premier League visits and Aston Villa's last home win against Arsenal was over 15 years ago, a 3-2 win in December 1998 - Arsenal led 2-0 at half-time through two goals from Dennis Bergkamp before Julian Joachim and Dion Dublin (2) replied for John Gregory's team.
The one problem Arsene Wenger's has now is the absence of Theo Walcott. Walcott offered something different and an outlet for his technicians in midfield. In his absence some sides have been able to strangle Arsenal in central areas and exploit their lack of width.
Wilshere, Ramsey, Ozil and Cazorla thrive on interchanging in central areas but none of them look as comfortable in wide areas. The Gunners will need Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gnabry to offer this different outlet.
With the Cheltenham Festival starting to loom large on the horizon a number of high profile injuries are threatening to take some of the gloss off the National Hunt season.
Ireland has lost two of its best chasers for the rest of the campaign in Sir Des Champs and Flemenstar and we have to hope Sprinter Sacre recovers in time to defend his crown as his absence would be an even bigger blow.
That's the bad news, the good news is that racing has a new star. Annie Power was brilliant again at Cheltenham on New Year's Day and looks something very special.
She's already a superb hurdler but has the physique to be even better over fences one day. We don't know what her target will be yet at this year's Cheltenham Festival but if you knew the aim was the World Hurdle, which would be my guess, she'd be a great bet.
There's no chance that she will take on Quevega but I'd be backing Annie Power all day long in that mares match bet.
More good news comes from the intriguing Champion Hurdle puzzle, which was only enhanced even over Christmas period. This will be THE the race of the season. My Tent or Yours surprised AP McCoy with his tenacity in beating The New One on Boxing Day at Kempton.
I sense the champion jockey thought he was a bit 'soft'. My Tent Or Yours is a mercurial talent and probably the best hurdler in this country on a flat track, however, I'd be amazed if he confirmed the form with The New One at Cheltenham. Hurricane Fly is such a wonderful horse and champion and looked as good as ever at Leopardstown.
He remains a potent force round that track on soft ground. Jezki will give him a much harder time in the Irish Champion Hurdle at the end of the month. I can't wait to see Jezki given an aggressive AP McCoy ride in two weeks time. It could easily be a different story and Jezki remains the value in the Champion Hurdle itself at 8/1 with Sky Bet.
There's still 10 weeks to go but I keep being asked for my best bet for the Cheltenham Festival. Answer: King's Palace in the Albert Bartlett at 4/1 with Sky Bet.
The most open race at the Festival is the Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle. When was it last still 10/1 the field in the middle of January? The re-arranged Tolworth Hurdle at Kempton this weekend will tell us a lot more. The Liquidator is the one I'll be watching most closely.
My bet of the weekend runs over at Warwick in the Betfred Classic Chase at 3.35pm. Victors Serenade looks a great each-way bet at 16/1.
He made an eye-catching return over hurdles at Ffos Las in November and now returns to fences on a really decent mark. Marathon trips on soft ground are always going to be Victors Serenade's forte and Saturday's test looks tailor-made for him.