United backed for first win
We preview Saturday's Premier League games and back Manchester United for a narrow win at Burnley.
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Burnley v Manchester United (1245 BST)
Perhaps we were all a bit harsh on David Moyes around this time last year as waltzing into the hotseat at Old Trafford and immediately reeling off victories is clearly harder than it looks. Louis van Gaal has been in charge for three matches which have yielded precisely one point in the league and a humiliating 4-0 midweek exit in the Capital One Cup to the MK Dons. The latter saw the Dutchman field a much-changed team and the big guns will be back for the trip to Turf Moor – with new £60m signing Angel Di Maria potentially making his debut as well if his training is up to scratch. The problems lie at the back though as an incredibly shaky rearguard has already been made to look well below the standard required by middle-of-the-road duo Swansea and Sunderland. It worries me then that van Gaal feels it is going to take four months to get things right, clearly an unacceptable situation for this club. So can Burnley exploit the visitors’ current demons and pick up their first win of the season? Based on the enthusiasm and commitment they have shown so far, then they are in with a chance of an 11/2 upset - a repeat of the early goal they bagged against Chelsea could certainly have a greater impact on the psyche of United than it did on Jose Mourinho’s side. While van Gaal settles in, it is a similar scenario for Sean Dyche in the top flight although the signs have been pretty positive so far in terms of the bigger picture and Dyche has already established that the campaign will not come down to how they fare against the league’s elite. So it is another free hit of sorts but Burnley were ultimately undone by the quality of Chelsea going forward and it is easy to forget at the moment United still have that in bucket loads. Throw in Di Maria at some stage as well and this should finally see the Red Devils get up and running.
Verdict: Burnley 1 Manchester United 2 (DJ)
Best bet: Manchester United to win by a goal at 5/2
Burnley’s only previous Barclays Premier League home game against Manchester United saw them win 1-0 thanks to a goal from Robbie Blake.
Manchester United have won only two of their last six Premier League games in August (D2 L2).
Angel Di Maria has assisted 11 goals in his last 11 league appearances.
Manchester City v Stoke (1500)
Monday Night Football host and sportinglife.com columnist Ed Chamberlin used the word 'ominous' to describe Manchester City's 3-1 victory over Liverpool, and it's one which also fits when we look at the history of this fixture. Six times, Stoke have travelled to City for a Premier League game, and six times they've lost. Six times they've tried and failed to get on the scoresheet - that's over 500 minutes of football - and all of this is very much in keeping with everything we know about them. At home, Stoke are a match for anyone - away, they are not. Even against 10-man Hull last Sunday they needed a late equaliser to secure a point, while last season they lost to Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham, too. Indeed, their biggest scalp on the road was at 13th-placed West Ham, with just one point gained away from home against sides in the top half of the table. They were beaten to nil by the eventual top three. Ominous. What we must ask ourselves is has anything changed over the summer which could dramatically alter how Stoke perform in these games? My answer to that is, no, it hasn't. Bojan Krkic and Mame Biram Diouf could yet prove fine additions but this is too much, too soon, while the likes of Victor Moses, Phil Bardsley and Steve Sidwell add depth and experience but not enough to change the dynamics of the club. So, for once, odds-on (4/5) quotes about a win to nil for the champions look totally justified and City look bankers at 1/5 for those looking to boost their coupon returns. Those playing the handicaps should remember that while it was easy, City only won this game 1-0 last year, but equally it's important to note that the game fell days after City had lost to Barcelona - they were deflated and went through the motions. Here, at the start of the season and with confidence at a high having swept aside the team which pushed them closest last term, City should be at their ruthless best. It took them just 12 home games (all competitions) to register 50 goals last season and they are worth a small bet to cover a three-goal handicap at prices upwards of 3/1. Under Mark Hughes, Stoke conceded three at Arsenal, three at United, four at Everton, five at Newcastle, three at Chelsea and three at Tottenham last year, and with City's dynamic attack better than all of those mentioned I can quite easily see them scoring four or more - which itself is priced at 5/2. However, given that a Stoke goal would be considered a surprise I'm prepared to move to the handicap market for a bigger price. City covered this start five times in 19 home Premier League games last term which immediately makes the price look a shade generous, and that's before factoring in their opponents and how this game has traditionally panned out.
Verdict: Manchester City 5 Stoke 0 (BC)
Best bet: Manchester City to win & over 2.5 goals at 8/15
Manchester City have conceded just five goals in 12 Barclays Premier League encounters with the Potters.
Stoke have won just one of their 12 Premier League games against Manchester City, and none of the last 10.
Manchester City have scored at least two goals in each of their last 10 Premier League games.
Newcastle v Crystal Palace (1500)
Crystal Palace begin life under Neil Warnock with a fixture which has historically been most unkind to them. Last season, Newcastle won this game 1-0 and the reverse 3-0, and since the turn of the century they've won six of the seven meetings between these sides with the other ending in a 0-0 draw. What that means given the cycles these clubs have been through is debatable, but I'm not surprised to see the hosts made odds-on favourites despite having failed to score in their two Premier League games so far. Certainly, there was more encouragement than an eventual 2-0 defeat would suggest from their opening game against the champions and it's just the finishing touches which are lacking. That has to be a worry for those taking 8/11 though, especially as a Gillingham own goal in Tuesday's 1-0 Capital One Cup win means no Newcastle player has found the net so far this season. It may seem perverse, then, to advise a bet on over 2.5 goals at 6/5 but this strikes me as a classic case of past events being given too much credence as we attempt to predict what will happen on Saturday. Certainly, Crystal Palace hold an attacking threat - they've scored five times in three games, all of which have involved three or more goals in total - and Alan Pardew was clear in his approach to this assignment on Tuesday, saying: "It would be nice to score two or more goals on Saturday. The way Palace play, how quick they are on the break, you sense that they could score, so it might mean we do need to get two or three goals so that's what our focus must be." Of course, Pardew wanting goals and Pardew getting goals are two very different things but Siem de Jong and Emmanuel Riviere do look more than capable on what limited evidence we have so far, and I expect they'll click sooner rather than later. Eleven of the 19 Premier League games played at St James' Park last season featured over 2.5 goals and it's my belief that the odds-against price we can take should actually be odds-on.
Verdict: Newcastle 3 Crystal Palace 1 (BC)
Best bet: Over 2.5 goals at 11/10
Newcastle have won each of their last four league games against Crystal Palace, keeping a clean sheet in each match.
The Eagles have conceded in second-half stoppage time on each of their last two trips to St James Park.
Newcastle scored a goal in the closing five minutes in both games against Palace last season.
Crystal Palace have conceded two or more goals in each of their last five Premier League matches.
QPR v Sunderland (1500)
I really like the look of Sunderland here at 9/4. They've drawn both games so far (and won 3-0 in the League Cup at Birmingham) but have put in lively performances against West Brom and Manchester United. There must have been fears among their support that the superb finish to last season would not be built upon, but the early signs this term have been good. The same cannot be said of QPR, who have been awful thus far, losing all three games they've played and failing to score a goal. Even against League Two Burton. As usual the revolving doors have been twirling at an alarming rate at Loftus Road and it doesn't take a genius to tell you a big turnover of playing staff often results in a transition period on the field. I expect Harry Redknapp, the man responsible for the transfers, will be telling everyone that, and how he needs to be given time to shape them, if results don't improve sharpish. For now though, it's hard to see that they will come on leaps and bounds from their 4-0 hammering at Spurs just six days ago, even if another new boy, Eduardo Vargas, is handed a work permit in time to play. There was certainly little evidence in midweek, although changes mean perhaps we shouldn't read too much into that. The R's other game so far was at home to Hull and was lost 1-0. All the evidence so far suggests Sunderland are the better team, in all senses of the word, and I can't resist backing them given their price. More cautious punters may want to take the safety-net option of the draw-no-bet market which still offers value at 5/4.
Verdict: QPR 0 Sunderland 1 (AS)
Best bet: Sunderland to beat QPR at 21/10
Opta facts: BBEsQPR have yet to score a league goal this season and have scored just once in their last eight Premier League games overall.
Harry Redknapp has won just two of his 14 Premier League home games as Rangers boss (D5 L7).
After scoring five goals in three Premier League games, Connor Wickham has now gone five Premier League appearances without one.
Swansea v West Brom (1500)
This time last week I previewed West Brom's trip to Southampton and expressed the opinion - one which turned out to be correct - that Southampton were worthy favourites but simply too short. With Swansea odds-on across the board, I find myself thinking the same ahead of this clash. The Baggies were the league's draw specialists last season and two more so far this show they may be tough to beat even if they don't win that many matches. A regular source of goals remains a problem, with the man they hoped to solve those problems, Brown Ideye, yet to shine. He missed a couple of good chances at St Mary's and failed to show anything of note in the midweek League Cup tie against Oxford - one which the Baggies only won on penalties. They will need to pay plenty of attention to Swansea's pacy foward line, who look much more threatening. Now the main man at the Liberty, Wilfried Bony should get plenty of goals in this side this season - providing deadline day passes without movement. In terms of the first scorer betting, he looks a standout jolly and can be backed at 9/2. However, the Swans, who have won two out of two so far and made League Cup progress, did look vulnerable defensively last week at home to Burnley when the visitors really should have put one of several second-half chances away. That, plus the price, is enough to put me off - there are better bets to be had elsewhere.
Verdict: Swansea 2 West Brom 1 (AS)
Best bet: Wilfried Bony to score the first goal at 10/3
Swansea have won four of their six previous Premier League clashes with the Baggies (L2).
Wilfried Bony has hit more shots on target (4) than any other Premier League player this season.
Bony has scored 12 Premier League goals this year, only Daniel Sturridge (13) has scored more.
West Brom have failed to score in their last three Premier League away games (L2 D1).
West Ham v Southampton (1500)
Expectations for both these sides were quite low at the start of the season, but both have offered signs of encouragement. Despite a lengthening injury list, the Hammers were a shade unfortunate to lose to Tottenham on the opening day before beating Crystal Palace 3-1 last weekend, and it's easy to forgive their Capital One Cup exit in midweek given that Sam Allardyce made nine changes to his side. Southampton were equally unfortunate not to get something from their game at Liverpool on the first Super Sunday of the season before they were frustrated by West Brom at home. Goals look to be the problem and the money spent on Shane Long may not look particularly wise, but Graziano Pelle scored for the first time in Southampton colours as they brushed aside Millwall in the League Cup and that will surely help the 28-year-old, who was prolific for Feyenoord. As for Saturday's game, it's very difficult to assess and that's reflected in the prices, with some firms making Saints favourites and others West Ham. Much will depend on the fitness of Diafra Sakho, who looks set to play a key role in West Ham's attack this season, but a glance at the names at the head of the goalscorer markets reveals plenty - all have something to prove on some level. The home side have done really well in this fixture, winning the last two 3-1 and 4-1, but I can't come to a firm opinion as to who deserves to start favourites so it's a match I'll leave alone.
Verdict: West Ham 1 Southampton 1 (BC)
Best bet: West Ham and Southampton to draw at 23/10
West Ham have lost only two of their last 11 Barclays Premier League games against Southampton and are unbeaten in the last five.
Saints have scored exactly one goal in five of their last six Premier League games against West Ham.
None of West Ham’s last 17 Premier League games have ended level (W8 L9) Everton v Chelsea (1730)
Everton could easily be sitting here with six points but due to the concession of three late goals in just two games, instead they head into this clash with the title favourites with just two. Already they are playing catch-up in the race for Champions League football. However, one of the Toffees' strengths is they rarely get stuck in a rut, especially at home where they have been strong for many years. A case in point can be found by looking back to this fixture last season - after three draws against limited opposition, Everton 1-0 to grab their first win with Steven Naismith scoring he goal. He's really kicked on in the 12 months since and has opened this term with goals in both games so far. The arrival of Samuel Eto'o would appear to put some presure on the Scot, although the Cameroonian seems more likely to be used as back-up to Romelu Lukaku or as an additional striker should boss Roberto Martinez opt to play two up front. With Everton having played well for much of the game against Arsenal last week, Naismith is worth considering to find the target at 15/4 and 10/1 for the first goal. However, Chelsea already look to be a better side than the Gunners and there has to be a concern about Everton at the back. Four goals conceded in two games is a far cry from thje defence which was the third-best in the top flight last season, Phil Jagielka looks weary and low on confidence after his time at the World Cup and with Martinez already talking about how his team are tiring, it is worth considering siding with the conceding late again. You can get 8/11 about there being a goal in the last 15 minutes, while Willian is 12/1 for the last goal. He's made second-half substitute appearances in the two games so far and, of course, it's money back if he doesn't come on. The good news for Everton is that Diego Costa, who like Naismith has two in two, looks set to miss out due to injury. However, with Didier Drogba on standby to come in, the price changes which have seen Chelsea already pushed out look somewhat overstated. Given that, it can be argued there's some value in backing them at 6/5 but that still looks too short for me to get involved giving how resolute Everton have been in the face of adversity in the recent past.
Verdict: Everton 1 Chelsea 1 (AS)
Best bet: Willian to score the last goal at 12/1
Everton have won four of their last five Barclays Premier League home games against Chelsea.
If games had ended at half-time this season Everton would be top, Chelsea fifth; if games just encompassed the second half then Everton would be bottom with zero points.
Chelsea have conceded just nine goals in 2014, fewer than any other ever-present top-flight side.
Cesc Fabregas has assisted at least one goal in his last four Premier League appearances (five assists overall), a personal record for the Spaniard.