Reds to edge closer to title
Ben Coley previews Sunday's action in the Premier League including a massive game between Liverpool and Chelsea.
- Related Content
"Every time we play the top teams we play well, but not the bottom ones. Why? I would think it is probably because against the top teams, we accept we are the smaller team. And because we accept that, we feel no pressure in those games and we play our very best football. But against the others, the ones around us, the pressure is on us and we find that a challenge. It is a problem and it is something we need to address." Those words, which come from Sunderland manager Gus Poyet, should serve as an extra warning to those who think last week's win at Chelsea makes Sunderland bankers at odds-on. Quite simply, the Black Cats have been abysmal against sides of Cardiff's quality all season long; albeit arguably their most impressive feat in such matches involved two late goals to secure a point in the reverse. My belief is that it's dangerous to assume they'll take confidence from last weekend and apply it to this game. Of course it's possible - Cardiff sit 19th in the away table for one thing - but the price about a home win is extremely short considering the pressure they're now under, pressure which didn't exist when their manager asked for a 'miracle' and just about got it. I've long thought that Cardiff are doomed under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and some encouraging performances of late don't change that view, particularly as neither a trip to Newcastle (even considering their form) nor a final day clash with Chelsea (distractions or otherwise) look anywhere near straightforward. Indeed, I'm not compelled to back them here, either, and this tense relegation clash is hard to get a firm grip on with the draw a token call. However, with Sunderland averaging less than a goal per game at home I do like the look of Juan Cala to score first at 40/1. The Spanish defender found the net in his final game for Sevilla before a January switch to Cardiff, where he has a couple to his name already. Those facts viewed alone they make the price look big but it's also the manner of his goals that makes me sit up and take notice. At Southampton a fortnight ago he produced an incredible strike from distance; at Everton the bundled finish of a poacher; at Villarreal a header from a set-piece. That all three came on the road adds strength to the case and with two of them being the first goal of the game, an each-way bet at the price looks the way to go in a massive but hard to call game. Further encouragement can be taken from the fact that in Peter Whittingham, Cardiff have a reliable set-piece taker and the prospects of a 'surprise' first scorer look greater than 40/1 implies.
Verdict: Sunderland 1 Cardiff 1
Sunderland have scored as many goals in the past two Premier League games (4) as in their previous eight outings.
Sunderland have failed to score in five of their last eight Premier League home games.
Sunderland have taken only eight points from 15 games against teams currently in the bottom half of the table, 10 fewer than any other side. They have scored just one goal in six home games against the teams currently in the bottom half.
Money has poured on Liverpool this week as they seek a win which would just about wrap up a first Premier League title. Its arrival is down to form and circumstance, both of which strongly support victory for the hosts. Liverpool are on a phenomenal streak of 11 successive Premier League wins and they've scored a whopping 38 goals in this period. Their 'outscore the opposition' approach was good enough to see off Manchester City, even if fortune played a part, and with Chelsea's attack unlikely to compete with Liverpool's it's going to take a massive effort from the visitors to get anything from this game. All of this we knew already, but then came Chelsea's 0-0 draw with Atletico, after which Jose Mourinho dropped a big hint that he'd be making wholesale changes here in search of Champions League glory with the second leg to come next Wednesday. It's to be hoped this is the type of red herring we've grown accustomed to because this title race is deserving of a greater climax. Indeed, I suspect Mourinho is playing to the crowd once more because a win here for Chelsea would reignite their challenge and the prospect of an impressive double. He will make changes with John Terry injured and Ramires suspended, but we should still see a midfield which includes Nemanja Matic, John Obi Mikel and possibly Marco van Ginkel while starts for Demba Ba and Mo Salah could make the visitors dangerous on the break, even allowing for the expected absence of Eden Hazard. Mourinho is nothing if not proud and for all his protestations I just don't see him bringing a team here and rolling over. In short, I wouldn't buy into the weakened Chelsea argument too much but that doesn't mean I think they'll be good enough to cause the upset they almost certainly need. Providing Liverpool can overcome the nerves they've hinted at but ultimately bettered, they should win with Luis Suarez likely to be partnered by Daniel Sturridge in an attack that looks more dangerous with each passing week. Instead of backing the Reds at skinny 4/6, however, I'll take them to win by exactly a goal at 29/10. Even in scoring freely, Liverpool have edged to victory on several occasions (including three of their last four) and Chelsea are best equipped to keep the hosts relatively quiet. There will be some tension at Anfield but Liverpool have shown great heart in this title bid and I am happy to rely on them finding a way to win once more - just don't expect it to be as easy as Mourinho may have you believe.
Verdict: Liverpool 2 Chelsea 1
Liverpool have now scored 3+ goals in 20 league games this season, matching Manchester City's Barclays Premier League record set two seasons ago.
Jose Mourinho has won six and lost just one of his eight previous Barclays Premier League meetings with Liverpool (D1).
Liverpool are the only team yet to lose any points from a winning position at home this season.
A game whose narrative may be written by that which precedes it. Clearly, if Liverpool beat Chelsea then City's Premier League prospects will appear very slim and if they're not completely on it here, their opponents are armed to take advantage. On the other hand, were Liverpool to drop points then you'd probably expect a buoyant City to find a way past a dogged Palace side even in the anticipated absence of David Silva and, potentially, Jesus Navas. Ordinarily that would be enough to steer me clear of the match prices but, given that I do think Liverpool will win and that my inclination here is that Palace have been underestimated, I am prepared to get the home side on board. In fairness to City, you have to go back a long time to find evidence of real fallibility on the road but they've not looked convincing home or away of late as their title challenge wanes. A year which promised so much appears increasingly likely to end with just a League Cup and, while Manuel Pellegrini has generally impressed, he'll need to do better next season if he wants to keep his job. Palace on the other hand are on a steep upward curve with five wins on the bounce and a top-half place is not out of the question. There's no need to cover old ground in terms of how big an achievement this is for manager Tony Pulis, whose manager of the year prospects might ironically be killed off if his side win this game and therefore help nudge Liverpool to the title, but the layers are still lacking in their respect for the Eagles. Palace beat Chelsea here fair and square and are worth backing at 11/2 in the draw no bet market having already given their guests a good game once this season. The advised wager respects City's hard-to-beat profile but there's a feeling that victory for Liverpool over Chelsea may leave Pellegrini's men lacking in the impetus needed to take on one the league's form sides. If this is an argument you buy into it could pay to wait until after the Anfield game to place your bet, but without that liberty I remain happy to advise a small wager at the odds.
Verdict: Crystal Palace 2 Manchester City 1
Manchester City have only won two of their last 11 league games against Palace at Selhurst Park (D5 L4).
The Eagles have conceded only 20 goals in 23 games under Tony Pulis. The only team to have conceded fewer in this period are Chelsea (16).
Only Liverpool (11) are on a longer current winning streak in the Premier League than Crystal Palace (5).