Stoke up the profits
Stoke haven't lost at home in the Premier League this season and look worth siding with when they host Everton on Saturday.
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It's now one win in 10 games for Newcastle following Monday night's defeat at Fulham, and I was really disappointed with how they played. Yes, they enjoyed a 20-minute second-half spell in which they dominated and briefly drew level, but defensive frailties were all too clear and Fulham should've been 3-0 up at the break. That said, they are a better side at home and Hatem Ben Arfa's return to the side was a huge boost, so we can expect a more vibrant display against the champions. Perhaps the biggest question here is how City will respond to their first home Premier League defeat in two years, and my inclination is to say they'll respond well. After all, despite the criticism they've received this is a side who have shown several times that they're nothing if not resilient - see how they won the title and how often they've come from behind to rescue points - and they've not lost back-to-back Premier League games since October 2010. You have to go back to 2005 for the last time Newcastle beat City and the champions, who've won eight of the last nine meetings of these sides, are strongly fancied to take care of business. However, at 4/6 their match odds are probably accurate and it could pay to back them to win having gone in level at the break. That's how they've won four of the aforementioned eight against Newcastle, and six of their last seven wins have come when they've been either level or indeed behind entering the interval. At 7/2, draw/Man City is where the value lies and we'll also play a saver on Newcastle/Man City given the case made.
Newcastle 1 Manchester City 2
Off the field, Liverpool continue to dominate transfer gossip pages but on it there's no denying that things have improved of late. Three wins on the bounce for the first time in over a year tee them up nicely for this and a come-from-behind win at West Ham deserves great credit, especially as they were without Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan returns from suspension here and Liverpool, who do remain hard to beat at home, are more likely than not to win this game. However, once more they're woefully short at 2/5 and I have to ask myself if I rate them as the banker of the weekend, a question to which the answer is no. Too often they've let backers down and no side positioned 10th in the table after 16 games should be so short. Aston Villa are a hard team to predict but their Capital One Cup win at Norwich was a great result, particularly for boss Paul Lambert, and his youngsters will relish a trip to Anfield. Their style of play makes them dangerous anywhere and bar an abomination at Southampton and one or two games against the very best teams this division has to offer, they've defended admirably. All things considered they should not be 13/2 in the draw no bet market and although if pushed I'd say they'll probably lose, I'm not going to ignore that price after their most impressive away day of the season. The decision on what to back here is made easy by the market.
Verdict: Liverpool 1 Aston Villa 2
I never expected to call Manchester United unpredictable, but that's what they are at present. A refusal to draw and a blend of lightning fast starts and first goal concessions mean even the left-field markets are hard to assess from a punting point of view. One thing that does seem reasonable to predict is that they'll beat Sunderland, even if Martin O'Neill's side gained a much-needed win in fine style against Reading on Tuesday. That owed as much to their opponents as it did any vast improvement and although they've caused an upset at Fulham already this season, a bigger one is unlikely to follow here. United have a great chance to really assert their superiority over Christmas with a run of six games they'll be expected to win and having had a week off since beating City in stunning style I expect them to win this and win well.
Verdict: Manchester United 4 Sunderland 0
If you're prepared to ignore Tuesday's Capital One Cup defeat against Aston Villa, Norwich look a solid bet at a shade of odds-against. Prior to that game they'd gone unbeaten in 10 games, with five home wins, and even stretching further back they've only lost once at Carrow Road all season. Throw in a Wigan side who still flatter to deceive and are without influential centre-back Gary Caldwell, and everything is in place for a home win. However, the fact is they were well beaten by Aston Villa and they have to respond, and I'm just not sure the market has adjusted enough after what happened on Tuesday. As far as Wigan go, they need Arouna Kone and Franco Di Santo to rediscover their scoring touch if they're to avoid a long battle against relegation. James McCarthy and Jordi Gomez have accounted for their last five goals and at 22/1 and 12/1 respectively to open the scoring they have to be considered, but on balance this looks a game to swerve.
Norwich 2 Wigan 1
Another game that is hard to assess, but one thing I am certain of is that QPR shouldn't be marginal favourites. Yes, Harry Redknapp is now in charge and yes, performances have improved since he took over from Mark Hughes, but the fact is they've still not won a single game in the league this season. I've no doubt they will at some point but until they do, they're shocking value at shorter than 2/1. That's the price we can have about Fulham and it's tempting, given the way they played against Newcastle on Monday. Of course, we've all seen them excel at home and then falter away, but they have won their last two games at Loftus Road and haven't conceded even a single goal to QPR in any of their last six meetings. Fulham have also done alright on the road this season, losing narrowly at Stoke but managing draws at Arsenal and Chelsea. If they can repeat the level of performance they showed in those London derbies they can win this one, but instead I'll use this game as a Going For Goals fancy for reasons explained when that preview goes live on Friday.
Verdict: QPR 1 Fulham 2
Immediately this game struck me as the one that offers the best betting opportunity on Saturday. Everton's league position, come from behind win against Spurs and popular-with-pundits profile means that we can have odds-against about Stoke in the draw no bet market here, and it's a price that's surely worth taking. For those unaware of how good Stoke are at home, they've lost just twice in 2012 and the last of those was in February when forced to play the second-half with 10 men. Since then, they've played 14 domestic games at home, winning seven, and have avoided defeat against the likes of Manchester City (twice), Arsenal (twice) and indeed Everton. In addition, they've won their last three at the Britannia, have conceded just two goals in seven home Premier League games, and their only defeats this season have been at Chelsea, Manchester United and bang in-form Norwich. Everton meanwhile haven't won away from home since September and were minutes away from losing last time. Yes, they've had a tough run of games but that applies to this fixture, one they've failed to win in their last three visits, and BetVictor's 6/5 about Stoke with stakes returned should they draw is excellent value, even in the enforced absence of the impressive Ryan Shotton. Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross have excelled this season and they can help keep Everton quiet just as they did Aston Villa last weekend.
Verdict: Stoke 1 Everton 0