Villa value for Anfield surprise
Ben Coley and David John provide a match-by-match preview of Saturday's action in the Barclays Premier League.
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Let me cut to the chase on this game straight away - no bet, as there are just too many other issues on the minds of players and coaches to seriously consider suggesting a wager. The Black Cats find themselves on a winning run of three games in all competitions and will be extremely upbeat following a 4-1 romp at Fulham in the league last weekend. Gus Poyet has called for focus but I just wonder how many on the pitch will have an eye on Old Trafford in midweek and a chance of reaching Wembley in the Capital One Cup - it just happens so often. Southampton's mental state is even more difficult to fathom after executive chairman Nicola Cortese walked with head coach Mauricio Pochettino potentially following him out of the door. He has agreed to remain in charge for this game at least but key names like Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw must really wonder what the future holds - and whether that future is away from St Mary's. Southampton could implode or they may even rally around Pochettino in a bid to encourage him to stay but all told, it is too tough to predict and a match best left alone.
Verdict: Sunderland 1 Southampton 1 (DJ)
Sunderland are unbeaten in their last six matches in all competitions against Southampton (W3 D3).
Southampton are unbeaten in their last five league trips to the Stadium of Light (W1 D4).
Sunderland have won fewer points at home in the Premier League this season than any other side (7).
Quite obviously, this is a game Arsenal should win with something to spare but there are one or two reasons to question whether it'll be entirely straightforward. Chief among those reasons is that Arsenal top the away form table with 25 points but sit fifth in the home equivalent having amassed only 23. Seven wins from 10 games is still very good and their sole defeat came way back on the first day of the season, but the point is we might get 8/13 about them winning at Fulham yet they're just 1/4 here. Fulham can also take encouragement from back-to-back draws at the Emirates Stadium and in fact they've done well at Arsenal, keeping within a goal at worst on seven of their 12 Premier League trips - although they've never beaten the Gunners away from Craven Cottage. Of course, history doesn't count for all that much come kick-off and this Arsenal team looks increasingly efficient, particularly in defence. It was only a rare misplaced pass from Santi Cazorla which ultimately allowed Aston Villa to score with their only chance on Monday night and in the main the partnership between Laurent Koscienly and Per Mertesacker has been outstanding. With that in mind if you do want to back Arsenal you should consider the 'to win to nil' market at a shade of odds-against. Six of Fulham's seven away defeats have been to nil and if Arsenal maintain their concentration for 90 minutes it'll probably be enough. In the scorer markets, Olivier Giroud is quite rightly priced as the man most likely but there's potential mileage in siding with the Arsenal midfield. Mesut Ozil has scored five since arriving from Real Madrid and each time at home, and with Tomas Rosicky an injury doubt he's likely to start here before being rested against Coventry in the FA Cup. However, such is Ozil's profile that the price doesn't look great and if there is value it's in 4/1 chance Jack Wilshere, who was superb at Villa Park and has an eye for goal when given the chance.
Verdict: Arsenal 2 Fulham 0 (BC)
Arsenal have kept seven clean sheets in their last eight games in all competitions at the Emirates Stadium, conceding just one goal in the other match during this run.
Fulham have allowed 133 shots on target this season, more than any other club in the Premier League.
Fulham have never won away at Arsenal in any competition, losing 22 of the 27 visits to the Gunners. They have, however, drawn the last two.
Tony Pulis takes on Stoke for the first time since taking over at Selhurst Park and I fancy him to guide his new side to a vital win. There seems little doubt to me that Pulis has had a tremendous impact on Palace and while they do sit bottom of the Premier League, now there exists real hope that they might survive or at the very least make a fist of it. There is, of course, a lot more work to do but the players will be right up for this game and desperate to impress their manager. One of the things Palace have done well since Pulis took over is produce big performances against sides likely to be battling with them towards the foot of the table. Yes, they were poor against Newcastle here but victories against Cardiff and West Ham as well as a couple on the road at Hull and Aston Villa are much more relevant and that Newcastle defeat remains the only one at home under Pulis. This isn't to say that Stoke are likely to be battling to avoid the drop but clearly they're a step down from Newcastle and when you consider Pulis's record at Stoke, it's clear he can make a fortress of his home ground. Stoke remain poor on the road under new manager Mark Hughes. So far they've collected just five points away from the Britannia Stadium and if the table were based solely on away form it'd be them and not Palace who propped it up. Their home form will surely see them through - they were better than the result against Liverpool last Sunday and no side will enjoy a trip to Stoke - but on the road they're always there to be beaten and have been in six of their last eight. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see Ladbrokes dangle 11/8 about a home win and it's definitely a bet. The more cautious should consider Boylesports' 4/6 in the 'draw no bet' market because it's hard to see Stoke adding to their solitary away win.
Verdict: Crystal Palace 2 Stoke 0 (BC)
Stoke have won none of their last eight Barclays Premier League away games (L6 D2).
No Premier League team has picked up fewer away points than Stoke this season (5, level with Hull).
Mark Hughes' side have conceded at least three goals in five of their last six away league games, the exception being the 0-0 draw at Hull on December 14th.
"How many?" seems the first and only question here in terms of the match result. Manchester City's form at the Etihad Stadium needs little introduction and there's no obvious reason to doubt they'll produce similar fireworks to those which saw off Blackburn in the FA Cup on Wednesday night. Sergio Aguero scored with just his second touch on his return to action there and with both Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko continuing their own fine form with a pair of braces, there's no doubt to me that this is the division's best attacking force by quite some margin. Cardiff did of course win the reverse fixture 3-2, but even that isn't much in the way of encouragement and if they can return to Wales having not been given a real hiding, that will have to go down as a success. Cardiff are in need of a result having lost at home to West Ham last week but it's beyond the realms of my imagination that they'll get it here. Some will point to the fact they lost by two at Arsenal and Liverpool as a positive but I see it differently - City are a couple of goals better than both of those sides and odds-against about them conceding a two-goal start on the handicap looks reasonable once more. They've done so six times from 10 home games and Cardiff are there for the taking. I tipped Dzeko to score a hat-trick on Wednesday and although he came up short, you could do worse than take your pick once the starting line-ups are in at 14/1 (Negredo, Aguero) and 20s (Dzeko). Similarly, the 'to score twice' betting is worth considering and I like the look of Aguero at 3/1. I'm sure he'll start having blown away the cobwebs in the week and he's scored twice or more five times in 19 starts already this season. Given that several of those have been away from Fortress Etihad and against better teams than Cardiff, this is a point too big in my opinion.
Verdict: Manchester City 4 Cardiff 0 (BC)
Manchester City have won their last 10 straight Barclays Premier League games at the Etihad Stadium and won 15 of the last 16. Their only defeat in that run came when they had a caretaker manager in charge on the final day of the season in a dead rubber.
The Citizens have scored 38 goals on home soil this season, five more than any other team in Premier League history in their opening 10 home matches.
Cardiff have won none of their last seven Premier League away games (W0 D2 L5) and have failed to score in five of their last six Premier League away from home.
The situation is getting a bit hot under the collar for Norwich boss Chris Hughton and the midweek exit from the FA Cup means it is eight games without a win. Hughton has been given backing from his superiors as long as they remain above the relegation zone but the natives are restless a radio show text vote revealed 516 wanted him to go and just 34 thought he should stay. The visitors have been beaten by Liverpool and Chelsea since thrashing Fulham 6-0 but the arrival of Nikica Jelavic and a deal for Shane Long in the pipeline should help Steve Bruce's men boost productivity in front of goal. The worry is they they have secured just five points from 10 games on the road but if ever they are going address that issue, it is going to be in a game of this nature where the nerves of the hosts are on such a knife edge. It will not take much for the home crowd to turn on Hughton at the moment and the 23/10 on offer for an away win could be worth a small investment. That added confidence flowing around the Hull squad looks vital and three points would keep them nicely in the top half of the section.
Verdict: Norwich 0 Hull 2 (DJ)
Hull City have kept six clean sheets this season in the Premier League, but none of these have come away from home.
The Canaries have managed only two goals in their last five Premier League outings.
Carrow Road has seen fewer goals than any other Premier League stadium this season (21).
West Ham's victory at Cardiff last week was the perfect response to those calling for Sam Allardyce to lose his job, after his side had been unceremoniously dumped out of two cup competitions (technically they're still in one, for now). Now, they have a chance to make this a week which they look back on as the one which truly turned their season and I fancy they'll get a result against Newcastle. I'm not going to argue that West Ham are all that good and certainly not that they're as able as Newcastle, man for man, but if you look closely at their home record it actually offers real encouragement. Only Stoke have won here as underdogs; other victors are Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton. This doesn't mean that West Ham have been faultless as they've only won twice, against Cardiff and Fulham, but it does suggest they're hard to beat unless you're fighting for a Champions League place and Newcastle are not. As such, I like West Ham at around the 5/4 mark in the draw no bet market. Newcastle played really well against City last week but they have now lost four in a row in all competitions and while they've won at Old Trafford, we all know they're much better at home. Crucially, Fabricio Coloccini and Mathieu Debuchy remain absentees and with confidence having taken a huge boost last week, West Ham can climb further away from the foot of the table with an important three points.
Verdict: West Ham 2 Newcastle 1 (BC)
Newcastle have failed to score in the last three Premier League games against the Hammers.
Newcastle have gone 280 minutes without a Premier League goal, their longest run of the season.
Carlton Cole has scored three times in his last five Premier League appearances for West Ham United.
I'm sure I won't be able to convince many of you with this but 12/1 about Aston Villa in the draw no bet market is surely worth a play here. Villa are awful at home - that much we know - but on the road they can do some damage with their pace on the counter attack and while Liverpool will win if at their best, if they're not at it we might be in for an upset. Villa can take confidence from the way they fought back against Arsenal on Monday night having looked likely to take a real hiding, and Christian Benteke's return to scoring form is hugely significant for them if it triggers the sort of run of which we know he's capable. Villa have also won two and drawn one of their last four trips to Anfield and they've in fact won five times in this fixture since the inauguration of the Premier League. I wouldn't rely too much on history when it comes to predicting future events but that's a nice record to back up the fact that Villa are, unquestionably, at their best on the road. Liverpool have developed a really good home record this season and for it they deserve credit, but with the Merseyside derby not far around the corner this could be a good opportunity for Villa to catch them off-guard.
Verdict: Liverpool 1 Aston Villa 2 (BC)
Liverpool won the reverse fixture against Villa back in August with their only shot on target of the game.
Christian Benteke has scored three goals in three Premier League appearances against Liverpool.
Aston Villa have lost just one of their last four Premier League visits to Anfield (W2 D1 L1).