I have always maintained belief in my pre-season prediction of Manchester United to win the Premier League, and the Red Devils took a sizable step towards regaining the top-flight crown from their despised neighbours with a dramatic last-minute victory at the Etihad last weekend, courtesy of a sublime deflected Robin van Persie free-kick.
It was the third Premier League match in a row in which United’s winning goal was scored by the coveted Dutchman, and the former Arsenal forward must surely be a shoo-in to retain his PFA Player of the Season award if he carries on this rich vein of form into the business end of the campaign. It may well be worth be backing him to continue business as usual against Sunderland today.
Norwich are in no small part indebted to Paul Lambert for transforming the fortunes of the East Anglia club from League One sleeping giant to Premier League big boys in just three years. He may well deserve the freedom of the city, yet his Aston Villa side were granted the freedom of Carrow Road in their 4-1 Capital One Cup destruction of the Canaries on Tuesday. Disappointing as the defeat may be to Norwich supporters who were dreaming of Wembley, as well as putting one up on the former boss who left them to join the Villains, new broom Chris Hughton won’t be too downhearted and will relish being able to return to league affairs, where his side have been in excellent nick of late.
Nine matches unbeaten, and a sizable seven points away from the drop zone in which today’s opponents Wigan currently reside, the run should continue into the double figures today against a Latics side who remain depleted by key defensive absentees and are beginning to leak goals and lose games at a rate that will surely get Roberto Martinez more twitchy than a lawyer working for the British Comedy Awards’ scriptwriters.
Does Villa’s Carrow Road goal glut suggest a deluge of scoring is imminent for the Midlands club? In short, no. The four that Lambert’s side notched against his old one in 90 minutes on Tuesday is as many as they managed in their previous six Premier League matches put together. With Darren Bent injured, Villa are even more striker-light. They go to Liverpool who themselves have been fairly conservative in their goalscoring antics.
Discounting their uncharacteristic 3-2 victory over West Ham last weekend, the Reds had managed to broach their opponents goal more than once in only one game since the end of October, that being a 3-0 Anfield victory over an ailing Wigan. Villa are made of sterner stuff and even with Luis Suarez back from suspension, goals may be at a premium between these two goal-shy teams. West Brom have lost their last three matches, and have lost a few key players such as Yacob, Ridgewell and Foster to injury. West Ham don’t often lose more than one on the bounce, and Sam Allardyce will have his boys well-drilled for a point at the Hawthorns.
After the ignominy of being held to a draw and having to go through the agony of penalties against an under-performing side which has been in decline for years, Bradford City should be ashamed of their efforts against Arsenal. Jokes aside, the Gunners couldn’t have wished for better opponents than Reading, who have lost five league games in a row and are faced with their own internal issues, not least Danny Guthrie’s refusal to travel to Sunderland in midweek.
Anyone who watched Guthrie in his Newcastle days may well understand why he would be reluctant to go back to the North-East in a hurry. Arsenal should grab three points here despite their obvious problems, with their Tuesday travails not likely to be an advantage for a Royals since they themselves had a long and fruitless journey up North on the same night.
In fact the Capital One Cup match most likely to make a psychological difference is the two sides’ earlier meeting at the Madejeski, where the home team surrendered a four-goal lead and eventually lost 7-5 to Reading. Arsenal should win the second set too.
Incorporate the Gunners with Tottenham in a North London double. The Lilywhites are coming into gear now under the manager known as AVB by many a lazy blogger, and were on course for a fourth successive league victory until Everton did their best Man United impression at Goodison last Sunday. A switch to a cultured variant of 4-4-2 has helped the upturn in fortunes, and the triple threat of Lennon, Defoe and Adebayor may be too much for Swansea.
Even if Bale is not fit to play the side who hail from the land of his fathers, Clint Dempsey is experiencing a new lease of life on the left hand side of midfield. Despite the good form that the South Wales club are in at this moment, the games may well be catching up with them, as their lethargic defensive display against Norwich last weekend exhibited.
TOP FIVE BETS
1) Manchester United vs. Sunderland Robin van Persie Last Goalscorer 3/1 Coral
2) Norwich to beat Wigan 13/10 William Hill
3) Liverpool vs. Aston Villa Under 2.5 Goals 5/4 Bet Victor
4) Tottenham/Arsenal double 19/10 Bet Victor
5) West Brom vs. West Ham Draw 51/19 PinnacleBet
Elsewhere this weekend in the Premier League, the first match of today sees the Champions attempt to get their title attempt back on track against Newcastle at St. James Park. A tough game to call indeed, as neither side are exhibiting signs of top form, and the odds are not conducive for a strong bet.
Everton find themselves in the hallowed land of the top four following their late, late show on Sunday, and should be pumped for a trip to the Britannia. Hosts Stoke though do boast the meanest home defence in the land, and no quarter will be given in this fixture.
Finally QPR entertain Fulham in a London derby where they aim for the 17th time for their first League victory of the season. I’ve predicted they would acquire three points in my last three previews and each time they have let me down, so I am not going to do it this time. So expect QPR to win 5-0 then.
Written by Emelie Okeke
Follow him on Twitter @Emelie_Okeke
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