Hammers to sink Chelsea
Our team of tipsters have previewed every game in the Premier League on Saturday and expect West Ham to sink Chelsea.
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It is all going a bit pear-shaped at Stamford Bridge and although it is incredibly unfair to judge Rafa Benitez on two 0-0 draws since his arrival, the fans have seen little to change their opinion that this is nothing but a negative appointment. The Spaniard claims to know the key to the continuing woes of Fernando Torres but he once again cut a forlorn figure in midweek against Fulham. Punters clearly feel that there is not going to be a quick solution to Chelsea's problems and have already piled into the 7/2 about the Hammers getting a home win. There is still some 10/3 available and there looks to be some mileage left in that after their gritty effort in a 1-0 loss at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Sam Allardyce ruefully pointed out that they may as well have been beaten 5-0 but there was plenty to admire about their resilience under considerable pressure from the league leaders. Allardyce hopes to have Mark Noble back at the weekend to add some steel and guile to the midfield while Andy Carroll is increasingly finding his form and proving a handful for defences. West Ham's record in this fixture is not good - but if they are ever to turn things around then this must be a golden opportunity against their shaky London rivals.
Verdict: West Ham 2 Chelsea 1 (DJ)
Arsenal start 1/2 shots at home to 7/1 Swansea but a study of form makes the margin between the two prices hard to fathom. The Gunners have won just two of their last seven league games and some of their performances have been worrying. They were soporific at Norwich, Manchester United and - last weekend - Aston Villa. Last time out at the Emirates they were second best against Spurs until the visitors went down to 10 men, while Fulham managed to score three times before that and left with a point. Arsene Wenger also has injury problems to deal with. Laurent Koscielny is out injured and could be joined by fellow defender Bacary Sagna - both were hurt during Wednesday's 1-1 draw at Everton. Lukas Podolski (illness) and Theo Walcott (ankle) are also doubts. All in all, that's a list you don't really associate with a 1/2 shot. The question to ask therefore is are their opposition in a position to capitalise? The answer has to be yes. After something of a stutter, Swansea have returned to form. They are now unbeaten in six in all competitions, a run which includes wins at Liverpool and Newcastle, a draw with Chelsea and, on Wednesday, a home victory over in-form West Brom. Michael Laudrup is unlikely to go with a three-pronged attack again here but it's also hard to see the Swans not having a go at a clearly vulnerable home side. Summer signing Michu continues to score - he now has eight league goals - and there's plenty of threat from midfield too. Swansea only lost this game last season due to a goalkeeping howler. I'm prepared to back them in the double-chance market to avoid defeat this time around. You can get 37/20.
Verdict: Arsenal 2 Swansea 2 (AS)
After back-to-back home wins, Tottenham's top-four hopes are likely to be tested by a Fulham side for whom Spurs old boy Dimitar Berbatov has impressed of late. Cottagers' fans must have feared the worst when they lost defensive lynchpin Brede Hangeland to suspension for three games but they conceded just one goal in games at Stoke and Chelsea and will now be confident of better result back on their home patch where traditionally they've been strong. However, take a closer look at recent home form and confidence in Fulham falls. They lost to Sunderland last time out - admittedly when Hangeland was dismissed - and before that should have lost to Everton and were beaten by Manchester City. Tottenham, for whom Emmanuel Adebayor is still banned, have been a bit in and out this season as Andre Villas-Boas still searches for a formula he's happy with. Neither side makes great appeal but one stat worth noting is a goals-related one. Fulham have scored in every home league game; Spurs have repeated the trick on their travels. Sadly 4/7 is the best you'll get in the 'both teams to score' market.
Verdict: Fulham 2 Tottenham 2 (AS)
My colleagues and I have regularly opposed Liverpool on home soil in 2012 and, with the Reds offered once again at 4/9 to win a game an Anfield, it's tempting to do so again. It's just four league wins at home in 15 games this calendar year for Liverpool and with Southampton having picked up seven points from a possible nine, there's reason to believe they can reward those who back them at 21/10 in the double-chance market. However, while Saints look to have plenty in their locker going forward, the cupboard looks bare at the back where too often there's a calamity of their own making. One way for those looking for a bit of value to get with the visitors is to side with Jason Puncheon, who has been in fine form in recent weeks. He found the net in Southampton's last away game at QPR and came close to adding to his tally in the home games with both Newcastle and Norwich. Plying his trade from the right of midfield, Puncheon could well find himself up against Stewart Downing, who struggled at left-back at Spurs in the week. All in all, the 22/1 that bet365 offer about him scoring first looks too big - back him each way in the market where unlimited places are offered.
Verdict: Liverpool 2 Southampton 1 (AS)
It was December 2010 when Manchester City last lost a Premier League at Eastlands and it came against Everton. In the two years since, a 36-match unbeaten run has been built, with 33 of those games won. The chance of Everton repeating their trick of 24 months ago is 6/1 according to the layers. It's not one for me; particularly given the Toffees seem likely to be without arguably their best player, Leighton Baines, due to a hamstring strain. Sylvain Distin seems likely to switch to left-back with Johnny Heitinga recalled to central defence. That's not great news for David Moyes, who has not seen his side keep a clean sheet since mid-September. They have, however, scored in their last 12. Moyes saw Darron Gibson and Tony Hibbert return in midweek, the former doing well and the ex-United star will want to shine in this one - just as he did when scoring the winner against City back in January. Another goal here would be most welcome as Everton will likely need to score at least twice to win given their defensive frailties. However, if anyone is likely to find the net it would appear to be Marouane Fellaini, a 5/1 shot to do so at anytime. That will tempt some given his seven goals so far this season. His aerial threat should trouble City - just as Tim Cahill's did over the years. The Belgian will be especially dangerous at set pieces where the hosts have been vulnerable. For those looking for something a bit more likely, Sergio Aguero is 6/5 to find the net at anytime for the hosts - he has now scored 20 goals in 22 league games at Eastlands since joining the club. Neither is for me though and there appear to be better bets elsewhere.
Verdict: Manchester City 2 Everton 1 (AS)
We highlighted QPR's awful odds for their last home game but weren't brave enough to back Southampton, who duly won 3-1 at Loftus Road. Things have changed since then with Harry Redknapp replacing Mark Hughes but the fact is the R's remain winless after what is now 14 games. While the bookies may feel this is a good chance to break that duck, backing the hosts at 21/20 simply can't be done. With the likes of Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson out injured they don't appear to have many goals in them - only once this season have they scored more than one in a game. Throw in the fact that Villa have kept three clean sheets in their last five games - including both of their last two - and the 3/1 about an away win begins to appeal. Villa won 1-0 at a similarly out-of-sorts Sunderland recently and, thanks to a goal from impressive signing Christian Benteke, edged out Reading by the same scoreline in midweek. With a bit of luck they would have beaten Arsenal by the same margin, while they also led Manchester United 2-0 before slipping to defeat. OK, Villa aren't setting the world on fire but those are certainly signs that Paul Lambert is beginning to get his young side going in the right direction and I can't resist a small play on the visitors at 3/1. A 1-0 away win may also be of interest at 11/1.
Verdict: QPR 0 Aston Villa 1 (AS)
Stoke are another away side worth considering this weekend. After a tough run of fixtures at the start of the season, the Potters have pulled well clear of the danger zone following a run which has seen them take 10 points from the last 12 on offer. Admittedly three of those four games were at Fortress Britannia - yet to be breached this season. It's a familiar tale on the road though where Tony Pulis' men have historically struggled and they have yet to win an away game this season. However, there are reasons to suggest they are capable of a surprise win in this one. First of all, their record at the Hawthorns is excellent - they've won here 'to nil' in each of their three Premier League visits. Of course, West Brom also come into this game after a 3-1 hammering at Swansea in midweek. It ended their four-match winning run, one which had seen them move to third, and it may just be that their bubble has burst. A return to home soil will help - they've won six of seven here thus far - and such form is a concern to anyone wanting to back Stoke, who look likely to be without Peter Crouch. Those braver than me will though and at 31/10 could be handsomely rewarded.
Verdict: West Brom 1 Stoke 1 (AS)
FA Cup weekends (yes, I know Premier League teams aren't in yet!) always feature 'potential banana skins' but it's hard to see past United in this one. Reading have won just once on their return to the top flight and, though that came in their last home game against Everton, they've slipped to back-to-back defeats against Wigan and Aston Villa since which will have hit their confidence. And it's not as though table-topping United are in shabby form on the road either. Despite being yet to hit their straps, they're top of the 'away' table with five wins from seven, with the next best Manchester City's three from the same period. The bet this season has been for United to win from behind - or for their opponents to score first and not win - but that's not the banker it once looked. While their record across the campaign is still positive (it's worth remembering they've conceded first an incredible nine times in 14 league matches), only once in their last four would either bet have paid out - against QPR at home last weekend. And the midweek win over West Ham - albeit unconvincing - saw them keep only their first clean sheet since October 7. That's why I can't put up 13/8 on United to win to nil, though I'm sure that'll have its supporters. If you do fancy Reading to score first and not win you can get 9/2 but this isn't a match that really excites me from a betting perspective.
Verdict: Reading 0 Manchester United 2 (RK)