Kiss and make up with United
Ian Ogg previews Saturday's Premier League action and says the time is right to side with Manchester United again.
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David Moyes is under mounting pressure with his side potentially on the brink of Champions League elimination, but if there's a crumb of comfort it's United's away record which ranks among the best in the division.
Elsewhere, Chelsea are expected to overcome a stern test of their title credentials by beating Tottenham, while Norwich can edge to victory over Stoke in a fixture which is typically decided by the odd goal.
David Moyes' Manchester United travel to West Bromwich for the early kick-off, with the much-maligned visitors looking for three points that would see them go sixth, at least for a few hours. One imagines that another 5-5 draw - as the two teams played out in this fixture on the final day of last season - is unlikely, given that the hosts have only managed 16 goals in 14 league games at the Hawthorns this season. There's no need to over-complicate matters too much, with United to win the advised bet at 4/5. The reasoning is quite straightforward. Only two teams (Arsenal and Tottenham) have won more away games in the Premier League this season and United have won 11 of their 15 games against teams in the bottom half of the table. West Brom simply aren't very good. The Baggies have lost four of their last six games, and rumours of an early exit for new coach Pepe Mel amid behind-the-scenes woes are rather ominous. Yes, they beat United 2-1 at Old Trafford in September, but they were sixth at the end of that month; they're now 17th. They're just one point above the relegation zone having won just thrice at home this season and the loss of striker Shane Long has left them with few options up-front. However, they have found a way to get the ball in the net in their last six matches, with Victor Anichebe finding himself on the scoresheet. A feature of their home matches earlier in the season was at least one team failing to score (four of first five), but five of the last six games have seen both teams find the net and the 19/20 (Betfair Sportsbook) makes some appeal. As does, if we are feeling a little greedy, the 3/1 with Coral about Moyes' side winning the match but conceding in the process; it's a bet that would have landed in four of their seven away victories.
Verdict: West Brom 1 Manchester United 3
West Brom have conceded the highest proportion of first-half goals in the Barclays Premier League this season (54%).
Wayne Rooney has scored six goals in his last five Premier League starts against West Brom.
The Baggies have drawn 1-1 at home to three of the top four this season and narrowly lost 2-3 to Man City.
This is a huge game for the bottom two sides in the division who have both seen changes at the helm during the campaign. Felix Magath has a reputation for digging teams out of trouble but he's got a lot of shovelling to do in order to keep the Cottagers in the Premier League. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also has his work cut out with Cardiff having failed to respond to a damaging 3-0 defeat against Swansea, losing three of their next four games and picking up a solitary point against Aston Villa. On-loan Wilfried Zaha has failed to ignite either his or their season, yet hope remains that if he can click with Kenwyne Jones and Craig Bellamy remains fit survival can be achieved. However, odds of 11/8 for Saturday's game are hardly compelling. Fulham ran themselves into the ground against Chelsea and were predictably outclassed but only a late goal denied them all three points at the Hawthorns. Prior to that while they were far from disgraced against Liverpool and Manchester United. Magath has had more time to work with his side and new signings have had more time to integrate and that could all make a difference to the level of performance for a team that has won away at relegation rivals Sunderland, Norwich and Palace. I can see them winning in south Wales but I couldn't back them at the quoted prices to do so.
Verdict: Cardiff 1 Fulham 2
Fulham have gone 13 Barclays Premier League away matches without a clean sheet.
Four of the last five matches between Cardiff and Fulham have ended with a 2-1 scoreline.
The Welsh side have scored 74% of their goals in the second half of games; the highest percentage in the top tier.
Fulham have conceded 68% of their goals in the second half of this season; the highest proportion in the Premier League.
The last four games between these sides, somewhat bizarrely, have ended 2-0 with Southampton winning three of them but the Eagles are a different side to the outfit that was brushed aside by the Saints at St Mary's in September. Tony Pulis has taken a side seemingly doomed for relegation to the dizzy heights of 16th, three points above the relegation zone, and they've won three of their five home games since the turn of the year. Southampton are sitting comfortably in mid-table but they're having a minor wobble having lost their last three games in all competitions but their relative success has been reflected by their growing presence in the England squad. Adam Lallana is a constant threat while the likes of Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez continue to provide vital contributions but whether that's enough to warrant their favourite's tag is open to question. Palace have picked up 20 of their 27 points at Selhurst Park and are no pushovers, while the return to fitness of Glenn Murray is a huge boon for the relegation run-in while January recruits Tom Ince and Joe Ledley have both made crucial contributions already. I'm leaning towards Palace at 27/10 while the top price of 13/8 draw-no-bet also appeals but Southampton have enough quality in their ranks to provide the one spark that could separate the two sides in this game and that's enough to persuade me to sit this one out.
Verdict: Crystal Palace 1 Southampton 0
Crystal Palace have scored 21% of their goals in the opening 15 minutes of matches; the highest proportion in the Premier League.
Rickie Lambert has scored three goals in his last two league appearances against Palace.
Crystal Palace have won five and lost two of their last nine Premier League home matches (D2).
The Eagles have conceded the joint-most penalties in the Premier League (six along with Everton).
What price this game topping the running order on Match Of The Day? Norwich have scored just 12 goals at home, conceding 11, while Stoke have netted just 10 times on their travels, conceding 28. The teams are separated by two points and are looking over their shoulders at the drop zone; this is unlikely to be pretty or exhilarating but it could be a tense, dramatic game with so much resting on it - particularly for Chris Hughton following his side's abject display against the Villa. He, and Norwich, cannot afford to roll over so tamely again and, in theory, Stoke - with just one away win all season - provide the perfect opportunity for the Canaries to grab a little breathing space. Time for a stat. Did you know the last four games between these sides have finished 1-0? You can take that back further to six of the last eight as well. So, that score pays 13/2 for the home team and 9s away while under 1.5 goals is 2/1 and under 2.5 goals is 4/6. The last five league games at Carrow Road have featured just three goals with a 1-0 win for Manchester United and home victories over Hull and Spurs by a single-goal margin. Can you see where I'm going with this? The problem is the performance at Villa Park, which was their worst in a long while, but I think Norwich's overall record merits a small interest in them bouncing back and claiming all three points by.....you've guessed it......a single goal.
Verdict: Norwich 1 Stoke 0
Norwich have kept four clean sheets in a row in the Barclays Premier League at Carrow Road.
Stoke have lost nine and won none of their last 12 Premier League away matches.
The average of 1.20 goals per game makes this the third lowest scoring fixture in Premier League history (minimum five meetings) after Man City v Sheffield United (1.00) and Bolton v Southampton (1.17).
No team has picked up fewer points away from home than Stoke in the Premier League this season (six, along with Cardiff).
Chelsea are unbeaten in their last eight encounters with Saturday's visitors, having drawn five games and won three since their 2-1 defeat at White Hart Lane in the 2009/10 season. The teams drew one apiece in September and it's been something of a mixed bag against the 'top' teams in the division for the Lilywhites who have been spanked by City (twice) and Liverpool as well as losing to Arsenal (league and cup) but they did take four points off both Everton and Manchester United. In contrast, Chelsea took six points off City, have beaten Liverpool and drawn with Arsenal while also taking four points off United and three from Everton. The odds and 10-point gap between the sides reflect that superior record, however, and the general 4/7 makes them one for the multiples rather than a single. Spurs have won nine of their 14 matches on the road (with last Sunday's defeat at Norwich only the third of the season and that came just days after a tricky trip to the Ukraine) but it's difficult to envisage them getting anything from a side that hasn't lost in the league since the first week in December. Chelsea failed to break down West Ham and it took them 90 minutes to squeeze past Everton either side of an Eden Hazard masterclass against Newcastle, but Tim Sherwood is unlikely to 'park the bus' and his attacking philosophy should provide the likes of Hazard and Oscar with plenty of opportunities to get on the scoresheet early and the Blues are worth backing to be in front at half-time and full-time.
Verdict: Chelsea 2 Tottenham 1
Chelsea have picked up the most points on home soil in the Barclays Premier League (38) this season.
No team have earned more points away from home in the Premier League than Tottenham (29).
Emmanuel Adebayor has scored seven goals in his last six Premier League appearances away from home and in three of his last four Premier League starts against Chelsea.