On-song Lukaku can call the tune
Andy Schooler, Ben Linfoot and Ian Ogg preview Saturday's action in the Barclays Premier League.
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It's a big day at the foot of the table while Everton and Spurs will be trying to boost their claims of a top four finish. Both sides visit teams embroiled in a relegation battle and Andy Schooler can't see Sunderland getting anything out of their match with the Merseysiders.
That could spell disaster for Sunderland in their fight to stay up and Ian Ogg is also expecting Cardiff's troubles on the road to continue when they visit Southampton.
Crystal Palace v Aston Villa (1507 BST)
Crystal Palace have gone a long way to ensuring their Premier League status with their last two wins over Chelsea and Cardiff, and now they host an Aston Villa side shorn of their star striker Christian Benteke. As you can see from the Opta stat Villa aren't as effective without Benteke, but they remain a more effective unit away from home when it comes to avoiding defeat. Paul Lambert's team have lost six times on the road as opposed to 10 times at home, their counter-attacking style a much more desirable asset on their travels. At Villa Park in the reverse fixture it was a familiar story for the home fans as their team struggled to break down a stubborn Palace before a 92nd minute winner was struck by substitute Dwight Gale. It could well be a case of same again here, or similar, with both teams - who have identical points totals with 34 - in a position where they would settle for a point. A low scoring draw looks the right play, but with no goalscorer as short as 6/1 the layers aren't giving anything away.
Verdict: Crystal Palace 0 Aston Villa 0 (BL)
Aston Villa have only won one of their last eight Barclays Premier League meetings with the Eagles, drawing four and losing three.
Palace have won an average of 1.35 points per game in the 20 Premier League games under Tony Pulis, compared to 0.58 in the previous 12 PL matches.
There have been 11 penalties awarded in Premier League games involving Palace this season; only Liverpool games (16) have seen more.
Aston Villa have scored just six goals in the six Premier League games that Christian Benteke has played no part in this season.
Fulham v Norwich (1507)
Fulham have been in a poor run but they have threatened in games they've lost against better teams and they finally got another win against Villa last week. That result makes this game huge as they are now just five points behind the Canaries and you don't need to be Carol Vorderman to work out that gap will be cut to two if the Cottagers win this. Norwich come into the game on the back of a desperate managerial change but the board clearly thought that fresh impetus was needed - especially considering their frightening run-in (Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal). But Neil Adams has a big job on to pull off a debut win, as Norwich have lost seven on the bounce on the road. The league table says there isn't much between these teams, but the momentum is slightly with Fulham and home advantage could see them get the vital win. Do odds of 23/20 appeal? Not really, and this looks another game best left alone.
Verdict: Fulham 1 Norwich 0 (BL)
Fulham have won five and lost none of seven previous Barclays Premier League meetings with the Canaries, conceding just three goals in total.
Fulham have drawn just three games in the Premier League this season. The only side to have gone through a whole season with as few was Chelsea in 1997-98 (3).
If Premier League matches ended at half-time this season, Fulham would be in 16th place, while Norwich would be in 19th.
None of Fulham's last 45 Premier League games has ended goalless - the longest current run of all Premier League teams.
Southampton v Cardiff (1507)
There's nothing wrong with the general 1/2 about Southampton winning this game and the prices appear to take into account that the home side have little to play for whereas the visitors need every point that they can get. Occasionally things work out like that but more often than not they don't; besides which, a higher finishing position in the Premier League = more prize money and you've got a manager at the helm who's potentially in the shop window and players who are keen to win places in a World Cup squad. All in all, Southampton shouldn't need to be motivated for this fixture and, as the stats below suggest, they should be in a different league to Cardiff. The absence of Jay Rodriguez is clearly a blow but the Saints have sufficient depth in their squad to cope and they are playing a side that must be desperately short of confidence following an abject display against Crystal Palace in what was, arguably, a far more significant game than this. There were criticisms of the way that Solskjaer set his team up in that match and the Bluebirds have now conceded 12 goals in their last three games. Admittedly, they did score six in reply and the Saints have only kept six Premier League clean sheets at St Mary's this season. In light of that, getting with Southampton at -1 and -2 on the Asian handicaps is well worth considering but we'll throw caution to the wind and split our stakes on 2-0 and 3-0 scorelines.
Verdict: Southampton 3 Cardiff 0 (IO)
Saints are unbeaten in 13 home meetings with Cardiff in all competitions (W10 D3), last losing to them on home soil back in October 1962.
Cardiff didn't manage a single shot on target against Southampton in the reverse fixture on Boxing Day.
Cardiff have won just seven points away from home all season - fewer than any other side (W1 D4 L11).
Cardiff have scored just nine first half goals in the Premier League this season; fewer than any other side.
Stoke v Newcastle (1507)
You suspect that the end of the season can't come soon enough to Alan Pardew and recent results suggest that his side may have already mentally gone on their summer breaks. Their last three games have seen them concede 11 times without reply and they have lost 11 of their last 16 games in all competitions. It's testament to the first half of their season that the Toon remain six points clear of Saturday's rivals, albeit having played a game more. It's been a relatively quiet revolution at Stoke - or perhaps that should be evolution - as Mark Hughes has sought to adapt the style of football that is played at the Britannia and the addition of a different type of striker in the January transfer window has paid dividends, not least for Peter Odemwingie himself. The first month of 2014 was an inauspicious one for the Potters but their recent run of form could hardly contrast more with their visitors as they've lost only two of their last 10 and those defeats came to title challengers City and Chelsea. They've also lost only two games at home all season and they should be able to gain revenge for their Boxing Day hammering when they had two sent off in the first half. There are doubts over influential midfielders Charlie Adam and Stephen Ireland while Loic Remy could return for the Geordies. Newcastle undoubtedly have the ability to trouble the home side but they have been something of a basket case of a club of late and this season is unravelling which makes the odds against about a home win a perfectly attractive wager.
Verdict: Stoke 2 Newcastle 1 (IO)
Peter Odemwingie has scored four goals in five Premier League meetings with Newcastle.
75% of the points that Stoke City have won this season have come at the Britannia Stadium (30/40) - no side has won a higher proportion of points at home.
Each of the last seven Premier League meetings between Stoke and Newcastle have seen at least three goals scored.
Jonathan Walters has scored four goals in his last six Premier League appearances against Newcastle - against no other PL opponent has he scored more often.
Sunderland v Everton (1507)
Everton look solid accumulator fodder here. Quite simply they are the better side - tighter defensively, stronger in midfield and more potent in attack - and I would be happy to back them at 5/6. The biggest concern I can come up with surrounds their mindset now they have moved into serious top-four contention - win their last six and they will finish no lower than fourth - but they were far from tense when the equation was 'win the last seven and you're in' last weekend as they took Arsenal to the cleaners. Sunderland offer a different challenge but they smacked of a team who know their fate in the second half of Monday's clash with Tottenham. That 5-1 defeat was the seventh time in eight games they have conceded at least twice, the odd match out coming against Crystal Palace, who are the league's lowest scorers. Sadly for them Romelu Lukaku and Steven Naismith are both bang in form for the Toffees right now and will surely cause that leaky back-line plenty of problems. Everton have scored exactly three times in their last four games and so there look likely to be opportunities in the scorer markets. It might not be particularly original to turn to Lukaku but he is flying high right now. He has scored in five of his seven games since returning from injury and looks overpriced against this defence at 7/5 in the anytime market. Roberto Martinez ensured he preyed on Arsenal's weak links last Sunday and there are more chinks in Sunderland's armour. The price seems more than fair. My critics will point out Sunderland won the reverse fixture while keeping a clean sheet but anyone who saw that game will know it was somewhat bizarre. Everton played 70 minutes with 10 men after gifting Sunderland their penalty goal yet still enjoyed the lion's share of the play and chances. I'll take them to put the record straight here with the on-song Lukaku leading the way.
Verdict: Sunderland 0 Everton 2 (AS)
After a run of 16 consecutive league games without a win against the Toffees (D4 L12), Sunderland have won their last two (both 1-0).
Gareth Barry has scored four Barclays Premier League goals against the Black Cats; against no side has he netted more.
Romelu Lukaku has scored 30 Premier League goals since the start of 2012-13 - only Luis Suarez (52), Robin van Persie (37) and Daniel Sturridge (31) have netted more in this period.
Sunderland are one of only three sides to have won fewer points at home that they have away this season in the Premier League (12 at home, 13 away).
West Brom v Tottenham (1507)
Albion are still looking over their shoulders while Spurs are looking wistfully at the top five places which could see them involved in European action once again. The speculation over the position of the London club's manager appeared to have little effect on their players on Monday night and that should have provided the squad with a welcome confidence boost ahead of this fixture while there are sure to be one or two players keen to put themselves in the shop window. Pepe Mel's position at the helm was rumoured to be under threat just weeks into his new job but three wins and a draw in the last four games have steadied the ship somewhat and given WBA every chance of retaining their Premier League status with home games against West Ham and Stoke and a trip to Sunderland to come. You've got to go back to the 2008/09 season since West Brom last beat Spurs and they have got a decent record on the road this season, winning nine times, but their Boxing Day fixture ended in a stalemate and it's not difficult to envisage this game ending the same way. Tottenham have arguably been less than the sum of their parts following the wholesale changes that were made in the summer while the Midlands side have struggled without Romelu Lukaku to lead their attack. All in all, the prices look about right for this fixture and, although it could be argued that Spurs at odds against represents a decent bet, there have been too many unconvincing performances to side with them in what could be a tight game.
Verdict: West Brom 1 Tottenham 1 (IO)
West Brom have drawn five of their six Barclays Premier League home games under Pepe Mel, losing the other. Four of these games have ended 1-1.
Spurs are unbeaten in eight Barclays Premier League meetings with the Baggies (W4 D4), scoring exactly once in six of these games.
Since Tim Sherwood first took charge of Spurs in the Premier League, the only player to have scored more goals in the competition than Emmanuel Adebayor (10) is Daniel Sturridge (11).
Ten of Adebayor's 15 Premier League goals for Spurs since the start of 2012-13 have come away from home, including seven of the 10 this season.