Eagles the value call
Chris Hammer and Nick Hext preview Saturday's Premier League games, including Chelsea v Everton and Crystal Palace v Man United.
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We're gearing up for another pivotal Saturday in the Premier League title race with three of the top four sides in action, while the relegation battle could take more twists and turns.
Leaders Chelsea host an Everton side looking to boost their hopes of a top-four finish in the opening fixture of the day before fellow title contenders Arsenal and Manchester City both face home games against struggling duo Sunderland and Stoke respectively.
In the late kick-off, Crystal Palace will be looking to continue their revival under Tony Pulis as they face Manchester United, who are of course facing an uphill battle in their quest to qualify for the Champions League.
Jose Mourinho has tried his best to convince the world that Chelsea are the dark horses in this season's title race and I fancy Everton to prove him right on Saturday. As much as the Blues' over-hyped 1-0 victory at Manchester City was dubbed a 'Mourinho masterclass', this one result did seemingly make everyone forget why they had previously been considered as outsiders in most quarters. The following weekend they shot to favouritism after a 3-0 win over Newcastle, coupled with slip-ups by their rivals, saw them go top of the standings but within a blink of an eye they were back behind City in the betting after a midweek 1-1 draw at West Brom in which they, not for the first time this season, failed to kill off the opposition. City then exacted revenge for that Monday night loss with a fairly dominant 2-0 victory in the FA Cup, leaving punters to once again question who are currently the best side in the country. Obviously to sit top of the standings at this stage of the season, they've done many things right, but the recent draws with West Brom and West Ham have highlighted how they can make hard work for themselves, and I expect their issues up front to resurface on Saturday when they face one of the best defences in the Premier League. The Toffees, who beat Chelsea 1-0 at Goodison Park back in September, hit a sticky patch recently when being thrashed by Liverpool and also losing 1-0 at Spurs but Roberto Martinez will be hoping their progression to the FA Cup quarter-finals will have restored any lost confidence. Overall, Everton have proved tough to beat on the road this season and apart from the demolition derby at Anfield, they've given all the top sides real tests. Wins over Chelsea and Manchester United (away) as well as draws with Spurs, Arsenal (away) and Liverpool emphasise the 'no fear' mentality Martinez has brought to the club since replacing David Moyes and I see no reason why they can't pick up another crucial point at Stamford Bridge.
Verdict: Chelsea 1 Everton 1 (CH)
Chelsea have lost none of their last 18 Barclays Premier League home games against Everton (W9 D9).
The Londoners have won just three of the last 11 Premier League games against the Toffees (W3 D4 L4).
Mourinho's unbeaten home record as a Premier League manager now stands at 73 games (W57 D16).
It has been an interesting run of matches for Arsenal in the last couple of weeks with results reading: Liverpool (Premier League, away) - lost 5-1, Manchester United (Premier League, home) - drew 0-0, Liverpool (FA Cup, home) - won 2-1, Bayern Munich (Champions League, home) - lost 2-0. A mixed bag there for Arsene Wenger but he will be more confident of taking victory from the clash with struggling Sunderland. The Black Cats have claimed some notable scalps during Gus Poyet's reign but remain in big trouble in the Premier League relegation zone. Recent form has been good though with four wins from their last five games. I think Arsenal have the wherewithal to cope with Sunderland but don't expect this to be a cakewalk by any means against improved opposition. All of Arsenal's previous nine home wins prior to last weekend's victory over Liverpool had been to nil and that starts a trend to take note of. Three of the previous five of those victories have come after the match was goalless at half-time (these successes coming in contests against Sunderland's fellow strugglers Crystal Palace, Fulham and Cardiff). I can see a similar wait in store for the Gunners on Saturday and am happy getting with the 12/5 for the half-time score to be 0-0 rather than going a bit heavier on the evens about the home victory to nil. The Arsenal defence still deserves respect but it's far from unimaginable that Sunderland will find a way to break through.
Verdict: Arsenal 2 Sunderland 1 (NH)
Arsenal have lost just one of their last 20 Barclays Premier League games against Sunderland (W12 D7 L1).
Arsenal have lost just one of their last 17 Premier League games in the month of February (W13 D3 L1).
Mesut Ozil made his debut in the reverse fixture earlier this season and set up Olivier Giroud's opening goal.
Adam Johnson has scored or assisted eight goals in six Premier League appearances so far in 2014, one more than he was involved in over 2013 as a whole (seven in 35 apps).
This is a really key clash at the bottom of the table. Win and Cardiff are just two points behind Hull but lose and the gap to the Tigers stands at eight points. The Bluebirds sit second bottom of the standings and there has been no noticeable improvement from what I've seen since the controversial decision to replace Malky Mackay with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. That's not to deride the Norwegian as a bad manager but the decision from owner Vincent Tan to rock the boat following promotion continues to look a strange one. Solskjaer has presented himself well since arriving in Wales but just one win in the previous six Premier League games isn't good enough and needs to change fast. That puts plenty of pressure on this match but Hull aren't to be underestimated. Steve Bruce's men have been hit-and-miss since the turn of the year but a 2-0 victory at Sunderland in their last league away game showed them at their best. The goalscorers that day were January signings Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long - a duo who have certainly added some much-needed goal threat to the Tigers' play. They could hold the key at the Cardiff City Stadium in an encounter that is a really tough one to call. My instinct is that Cardiff will just about come out on top but you just can't trust the Bluebirds as favourites in any match. Those looking for an outside bet should focus on Cardiff's Norwegian midfield duo Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Mats Moller Daehli. The January signings started in last weekend's FA Cup defeat against Wigan and can be backed at 8/1 and 12/1 respectively to find the back of the net.
Verdict: Cardiff 2 Hull 1 (NH)
Cardiff have failed to score in 14 Barclays Premier League games this season; more often than any other team.
Cardiff have scored the fewest (5) and have conceded the most goals (21) in the first half of Premier League matches this season.
Hull have made just 371 touches in the opposition box this season - fewer than any other side in the Premier League.
Hull boss Steve Bruce needs one more victory to reach 100 Premier League wins as a manager.
With Manchester City's quadruple dream almost over following their 2-0 first leg defeat at home to Barcelona in midweek, Manuel Pellegrini's side must quickly dust themselves down and focus on picking up three more points in the title race. City struggled to cope with the Spanish giants after being reduced to 10 men for the majority of the second half but there's little point us dwelling too much on Tuesday night's clash considering how much the standard of opposition drops this weekend. Stoke have the joint worst away record in the top flight along with Crystal Palace and Cardiff having picked up just six points from 13 games on the road while the only blemish on Man City's home record in the league is the recent 1-0 defeat to Chelsea. The Opta stats I've highlighted at the bottom of the preview underline exactly why the obvious tip for this game is for the hosts winning to nil, but that's hardly a tempting option at odds-on prices. Yet another 3-0 win for the hosts may well happen but it might be worth considering Yaya Toure to get on the scoresheet at 7/4. The Ivory Coast midfielder hasn't netted since scoring a penalty in the 5-1 win at Spurs on January 29 but having been somewhat forced to curb his attacking intentions in the last three games he may well look to fill his boots against the Potters.
Verdict: Manchester City 3 Stoke 0 (NH)
Man City have won all five Barclays Premier League home games versus Stoke without conceding a single goal, with four of the matches ending 3-0.
Stoke have failed to score in six of their last 11 league games against Man City and just one goal in each of the other five.
Yaya Toure has scored with seven of his eight attempts from a dead ball situations this season - 3/3 penalties, 4/5 direct free-kicks.
Overall, Toure has scored 12 goals from just 16 shots on target in the top-flight this term.
Just when there were signs that Fulham were about to turn the corner under Rene Meulensteen after a dramatic 2-2 draw at Manchester United followed by a narrow and somewhat unfortunate 3-2 defeat at home to Liverpool, the Cottagers sacked him and brought in Felix Magath. The farcical and confusing circumstances surrounding Meulensteen's delayed departure along with Alan Curbishley and Ray Wilkins will hardly have helped their preparations for Magath's first game in charge this weekend, which can feasibly be dubbed a 'relegation six pointer'. Rock-bottom Fulham are four points behind fourth-bottom West Brom, who are searching for their first win since beating Newcastle 1-0 on New Year's Day. Since then, the Baggies have picked up creditable draws against Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea at The Hawthorns so you'd think a home clash against much weaker opposition gives them a golden opportunity to pull clear of the drop zone. I'd back them to do just that but at odds-on prices, I'm not sure it's worth a hefty wager.
Verdict: West Brom 2 Fulham 1 (NH)
West Bromwich Albion have seen 16 different players net a goal for them in the Premier League this season; more than any other side.
Fulham have conceded the first goal of the game on 19 occasions this season in the Premier League; more often than any other club.
Pepe Mel has failed to win any of his five Premier League games as a manager so far, alternating between a draw and a defeat in those matches (DLDLD).
West Ham are on the march with three wins in a row and four clean sheets in succession for the first time in their Premier League history. That represents a big turnaround in fortunes for manager Sam Allardyce who was finding his future called into serious question only a month ago. One of the key catalysts for the transformation has been the return of Kevin Nolan and his change in fortunes nearly encapsulates the upturn at Upton Park. Nolan was sent off twice over the festive period much to the chagrin of Allardyce and the Hammers boss was even threatening to remove the captaincy from the midfielder. That didn't happen and the 31-year-old has justified his manager's continued faith in him with doubles in two of West Ham's last three matches. He is 11/4 in the anytime goalscorer betting against Southampton and that is well worth an interest. Saints have rightly received plenty of plaudits for their performances this season and are currently on a run of just one defeat in nine games, coming last weekend in the FA Cup. They now face a West Ham side currently proving a much tougher proposition and a share of the spoils is on the cards.
Verdict: West Ham 1 Southampton 1 (NH)
West Ham have kept four clean sheets in a row for the first time in Premier League history - they haven't kept five in a row in the top-flight since December 1985.
No side has lost more points from winning positions than West Ham (14) in the Premier League this season.
22 of the 28 goals that Kevin Nolan has scored in the Premier League since the start of 2010-11 have been netted in home games (79 per cent).
Southampton have won back-to-back away games in the Premier League - they have never won three in a row in the competition.
The Manchester United soap opera rocks up at Selhurst Park with pencils being sharpened for the latest twist in David Moyes' reign. The Red Devils have only won two Premier League games in 2014 and it's fair to call that an utterly miserable return for a club used to fighting it out for the title season after season. Stoke were winners at home to United at the start of this month so there's no hesitation in calling Crystal Palace to claim victory at 11/2 a real bit of value. Tony Pulis has made a sensational impact with the Eagles and deserves the manager of the season award if he keeps them in the top-flight from the position they were in when he took over. The Welshman currently has his charges two points outside of the relegation zone but an impressive January deadline day has given his men a fresh impetus. Tom Ince and Joe Ledley both scored in the 3-1 win at home to West Brom last time out and that made it three victories in a row at Selhurst Park. United are clearly going to finish the season way ahead in the table but at the current time you have to say Palace shouldn't be 11/2 against an out-of-form side in seventh. They certainly wouldn't be as big a price if at home to Southampton, who are in better form and sit just one place and three points behind the Red Devils. Moyes also has a Champions League clash in Greece against Olympiacos on Tuesday night to consider and that game is taking on even more significance with the top-four continuing to pull away. Palace have to be the call in the Saturday Night Football contest with a small wager.
Verdict: Crystal Palace 1 Manchester United 0 (NH)
Crystal Palace have scored the highest proportion of goals from set-piece situations this season in the Premier League (44 per cent).
Crystal Palace have recouped just one point from a losing position in the Premier League this season; a joint league low.
Manchester United have won nine and lost none of their last 11 league meetings with Crystal Palace.
David Moyes has not named the same starting XI in any two competitive games this season, with this being his 40th match in charge of Manchester United.