QPR backed; De Guzman top man
We are backing QPR for victory at Southampton and Jonathan de Guzman to shine again for Swansea in Saturday's Premier League preview.
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Our Nick Hext and Andy Schooler have looked at all eight of the day's matches in the top-flight and also reckon Everton can once again claim victory without keeping a clean sheet.
Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross is tipped as the man to watch in the clash with West Ham and Wigan are expected to go for goals in the evening kick-off against Liverpool.
The 7/1 on offer for the West Brom win at Stamford Bridge does act as a real tempter outside off stump - especially given Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez's interesting comments after the FA Cup win at Middlesbrough. Benitez has confirmed that he will definitely be off at the end of the season and there's plenty of doubt over whether he'll manage to even make it that long. West Brom travel south on the back of two wins in a row and the first of those victories saw Liverpool dispatched 2-0 at Anfield so spirits will be high. Chelsea's recent record is inconsistent with four wins, four draws and two defeats from their previous 10 matches but Champions League qualification is still very much in their own hands. I certainly wouldn't trust the Blues at 2/5 to bag the three points on Saturday but a key absentee for West Brom means the visitors will offer less of a threat in attack. Romelu Lukaku - scorer of both goals in last weekend's 2-1 win over Sunderland - is ruled out because he is on loan at The Hawthorns from Chelsea for the season. That is a blow for boss Steve Clarke and the Baggies may find it tough to do without the in-form forward.
Verdict: Chelsea 1 West Brom 0 (NH)
Everton got back to winning ways by defeating League One Oldham in their midweek FA Cup replay and will know they now need to triumph in this one if they are to maintain their fading hopes of Champions League football next season. However, while victory over the Latics will have restored some confidence, it also showed the defensive deficiencies remain - Oldham scored from an aerial ball into the box, just as they did in the first game and just as Norwich did (twice) to pinch all three points last weekend. Everton will therefore be relieved to see that target man Pavel Pogrebnyak is suspended, while Jason Roberts remains an injury doubt. With Reading having gained just one win and a total of five points on their travels, Everton, beaten just once at home, will fancy their chances, especially with Marouane Fellaini set to return. However, backing them at 4/11 is no get-rich-quick scheme. A way to inflate that price is to back them to win 'not to nil'. Their last nine victories have been achieved this way with their last win without concession coming back in September. Reading, who won the reverse fixture, will still have players to trouble the suspect home backline - think Adam Le Fondre, Jimmy Kebe - so a small play on this outcome looks worthwhile.
Verdict: Everton 2 Reading 1 (AS)
- Premier League
All the talk already seems to be about next Tuesday's Champions League clash against Real Madrid, but Sir Alex Ferguson will have Manchester United fully aware Norwich need taking care of first. The Red Devils chief has talked this week of making full use of his squad and that means we can expect a few of his regular names (such as injury doubt Robin van Persie) to miss out here. One man who could well get the nod to start again is Javier Hernandez and supporting the Mexican to score at anytime will interest a few of you. The striker has started United's last couple of games but missed out on selection for the first leg against Madrid and you would expect the bench to be his destination again in the Champions League next week. Hernandez has scored three goals in his last three contests in the first XI - one against Reading in the FA Cup and two against Fulham in the same competition - so is one to watch. That is providing he does get selected for his third start in a row as the price looks much less appearing if he takes a place amongst the subs. I am also tempted to back United to win not to nil - as they have done in three of their last four Premier League home matches. However, Norwich lack of goals on the road - they have struck just once in their three previous away league games - is enough for me to swerve. Watch out for Hernandez but there are more interesting selections to be had elsewhere on Saturday's card.
Verdict: Manchester United 2 Norwich 0 (NH)
- Premier League
QPR have to put some kind of run together and do it RIGHT NOW if they are to launch a serious bid to stay in the Premier League. This would be a great contest to start a sequence of wins as their upcoming games provide a real chance to put pressure on the sides above them. The next five matches for QPR are: Southampton (away), Sunderland (home), Aston Villa (away), Fulham (away) and Wigan (home) - all sides in the bottom half of the table. Harry Redknapp's side enter this match on the back of a couple of defeats - 2-0 at home to Manchester United and the awful 4-1 away capitulation at Swansea - but prior to that things were looking a little better. The Loftus Road side were unbeaten in five Premier League games - four draws and that famous 1-0 win at Chelsea - before making the trip to Swansea and the return of Loic Remy off the bench last weekend provides a real boost to the attacking options. Manchester City were defeated in Southampton previous home match but that is only one of two wins in their previous 12 matches so fans shouldn't get carried away. That helps further convince me that backing QPR to win in the draw no bet market is worth doing and that is the tip for this crunch clash in the battle to stay up.
Verdict: Southampton 1 QPR 2 (NH)
West Ham contributed much to Monday night's game with Tottenham which they ultimately lost but, Gareth Bale aside, the match was notable for some poor West Ham defending at corners. A repeat of that at Stoke - where injury doubt Kevin Nolan would again be sorely missed - will likely be costly. The Potters' proficiency at set-pieces is well known and in recent home games they've proven just that. Robert Huth netted from a corner against Reading. Ryan Shawcross scored from a free kick in the box against Wigan and (skipping over a shutout against Chelsea) prior to that Matt Upson pounced from a corner against Southampton. Those three have two things in common - they are all tall defenders and were big-priced winners in the anytime market. With West Ham showing frailty on Monday and being in something of a rut, siding with one of them looks the way to go here. Huth can be ignored as he's suspended so Shawcross is the man to whom I'll turn. Jussi Jaaskelainen was a busy man against Spurs and while Stoke offer a different kind of threat, you would expect the Finn to be tested often again here and it would be no surprise to see him concede at least a couple - only Chelsea have stopped Stoke doing that in a home league game since Christmas. All in all, Shawcross looks overpiced.
Verdict: Stoke 3 West Ham 1 (AS)
I fancy Sunderland to win this match but can't make too strong a case given their recent form. The Black Cats have only won one of their previous six matches and it's just one victory from their last five games at the Stadium of Light. Three points here are needed for Sunderland to pull a little bit further clear of the relegation zone - they currently sit five points clear of third-bottom Aston Villa, who host Manchester City on Monday night - and a bit of consistency after that would be most welcome. Fulham sit three points better off than the Black Cats in the standings and Martin Jol's men have been playing pretty well as of late. Last weekend's 1-0 home win over Stoke came courtesy of a lovely strike from Dimitar Berbatov and it's fair to say he provides the main attacking threat for the visitors. You can get 12/5 for the Bulgarian to find the back of the net in this match but be wary of his scoring record away from Craven Cottage. He has only struck once in his previous eight starts on the road so take a watching brief with not enough confidence to be had in the hosts.
Verdict: Sunderland 2 Fulham 1 (NH)
- Premier League Top Scorers
There will be a party atmosphere at the Liberty Stadium as Capital One Cup winners Swansea play their first match since the 5-0 demolition of Bradford last weekend. The Swans enjoyed a victory parade through the city on Tuesday and there is clearly a lot of goodwill for Michael Laudrup's side after securing a first piece of major silverware for the club. Jonathan de Guzman is one of the Wembley heroes and his double strike certainly provided plenty of memories. De Guzman's row with Nathan Dyer prior to slotting home a penalty means we now know just who takes the Swansea spot-kicks and the Dutchman continues to offer a threat in open play. The midfielder has bagged eight goals this season and has been one of the most impressive performers in a thoroughly impressive side. The Swans are unbeaten in seven home games - including clashes with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United - so Newcastle face a tough task. The Magpies do enter this contest in high spirits with four wins from their last six games but there is lots going on for Alan Pardew and his men as they travel to Russia for a Europa League game next week. Newcastle are capable of getting something in Wales but I like de Guzman to find the back of the net as my tip for this match.
Verdict: Swansea 2 Newcastle 2 (NH)
Here's a stat which shows why Liverpool have struggled to match their lofty ambitions this season - in nine of their 13 away games in the Premier League the Reds have conceded at least two goals. West Ham and Norwich are among the sides on that list, while look at cup games and Oldham, Zenit St Petersburg and Young Boys have also netted at least two against a backline which is not as solid as it once was. Given Wigan have netted at least two themselves in five of their last seven matches, you can probably see where I'm going. Back the Latics to net two or more in this one. It was around this time last year that Wigan's revival began and last week's 3-0 victory over Reading was certainly impressive. It's now just two defeats in their last 10 in all competitions (perhaps this year's revival will be able to be traced back slightly earlier) so siding with the Latics in some form or another looks the way to go. Liverpool will likely have Daniel Sturridge back and he's added plenty to their game when he's played so rather than take the visitors on in the outright market - they are just 4/5 with Wigan 7/2 shots - opposing their defence looks the best way to go.
Verdict: Wigan 2 Liverpool 2 (AS)