We head into week 23 of the English Premier League still with a very tight race for the title. Arsenal edge Leicester on top of the table on goal difference with Manchester City and Tottenham not too far off just 1 point and 5 points off the top respectively. If you include the inconsistent Manchester United, there’s 5 sides that have a good chance of winning the title this season but of those 5 you would have to think maybe 2 of them have the best credentials to do so. Arsenal and Manchester City are clearly those sides and although they have both been a little hit and miss in recent weeks, they still have a lot in their favour at this stage. Arsenal will see Alexis Sanchez return to the side potentially this weekend whilst some of City’s star players too should boost them in the coming weeks. As for Leicester they certainly have a great chance but recent form suggests they may be in for a real tough period which may see them slip. Tottenham are perhaps the dark horse of the lot. Best defence in the league and the 2nd best goal difference but the fact they have drawn 9 games has kept them behind in the race. Still, a good run of results will see them near the top. As for United, mathematically they are in it of course but I think the longer LVG sticks around, the longer the gap will remain for them to climb the table. With such a close race then, it’s fitting that the top 4 have tough games this week. Arsenal host Chelsea, Leicester have Stoke at home, Manchester City head to West Ham, and Tottenham travel to Crystal Palace. Let’s see who will take advantage this weekend.
**Odds from Sportsbet as at 23rd January
Norwich ($3.8) versus Liverpool ($2), Draw ($3.5)
Norwich will be eager to unleash new signing Steven Naismith against Liverpool this week and it could be just the signing they need to kick off their relegation fight. Just 2 points above the drop, they are in a precarious position and whilst Liverpool certainly have more talent, they haven’t been able to get the best out of that talent this season. They’ve failed to win in any of their last 3 games taking just the 1 point in a 3-3 draw with Arsenal. Losses to West Ham and Manchester United last time out cap off a disappointing run of games. The problem just seems to stem around both their defence and up front. At times this season they have shown good signs up front but they just haven’t been consistent enough to enable them to get the results they need. Similarly with their defence they just can’t seem to stop the goals at times. I think despite Norwich losing their last 2 by a combined 6-1, I kind of fancy them to get something from this. At home this season they have been pretty decent conceding just 10 goals from their 10 games and boast an undefeated record in their last 5 at Carrow Road. Add in a bit of an anomaly with Naismith and that mini boost could give them enough to snatch something.
Predicted score: Draw 1-1
Best Bet: Both teams to score – Yes at $1.83 (80%)
Next Best: Double chance Norwich at $1.8
Crystal Palace ($3.4) versus Tottenham ($2.2), Draw ($3.3)
Having lost just once away from home this season, Palace will be up against it this week in their efforts to get the 3 points. Tottenham have also just lost once in their last 6 games which came in their recent home defeat to Leicester thanks to a late Huth goal. They responded to that defeat strongly though with a thumping 4-1 win over Sunderland, even if at times it didn’t look that convincing. Palace have dropped off lately too with 3 straight losses, the last of which was a 4-0 loss away at Manchester City. The real concern though is that the goals have dried up and with Tottenham boasting the best defensive record in the league, it’s difficult to see Palace getting what they need here if not for an upset.
Predicted score: Tottenham 2-0
Best Bet: Tottenham to win at $2.2 (85%)
Next Best: Tottenham to win to Nil at $3.5
Leicester ($2.1) versus Stoke ($3.75), Draw ($3.25)
With just goal difference separating themselves and Arsenal at the top of the table, Leicester will be keen to get a win here to put the pressure on Arsenal who have a tricky fixture at home against Chelsea. It won’t be easy here though either with Stoke performing well in 7th place losing just 1 of their last 5. I think Stoke will look to play this pretty tight knowing well that the goals have dried up for Leicester in recent weeks. They’ve scored just twice in their last 5 games as the lethal duo of Mahrez and Vardy seem to be in a bit of a lull in form as well as minor injury. Stoke will not necessarly want to win this one but they will be keen to at least get a point knowing that they themselves are just 4 points off 5th placed Manchester United and a point at this stage is better than nothing. I feel like the pressure to perform is just slowly starting to creep into Leicester which shows by their recent run of form. This will be a tight and tough one and one that I see ending in a draw.
Predicted score: Draw 1-1
Best Bet: Under 2.5 goals at $1.68 (75%)
Next Best: Both teams to score – Yes at $1.83
Manchester United ($1.83) versus Southampton ($4.75), Draw ($3.4)
They might be undefeated in their last 4 games but United still are failing to convince that they can push into the top 4. Their best chance right now is that Leicester continues their dip in performances and ends up dropping out. For now though they need to try and beat Southampton who’ve suddenly found a bit of form themselves with 2 wins in a row over Watford and West Brom. Southampton wil have a bit of a strut about them after those results given they were in some pretty bad form previously and I think they’ll cause United some trouble in this one. One thing really counting against United has been their lack of goals for a big club and particularly a lack of goals at home. In 10 games they’ve scored just 12 times which is equal with that of Swansea, Norwich, Palace, and Sunderland with only Watford and Aston Villa scoring fewer at home. It’s a worrying trend for the remainder of the season and one they need to rectify quickly if they are to keep in touch with the top 4. In saying that, Wayne Rooney is in some good form having scored 5 times in his last 4 games in all competitions. If he can keep that up this week then maybe they’ll start to turn the corner but he really needs more support because at the moment the best they might get from this one could be just a draw.
Predicted score: Draw 1-1
Best Bet: Under 2.5 goals at $1.57 (90%)
Next Best: Half-time Draw at $1.91
Sunderland ($2.87) versus Bournemouth ($2.5), Draw ($3.3)
The Black Cats had their chances against Spurs last weekend but ultimately were overrun in the 2nd half to lose 4-1. Despite the score line, the shining light was clearly young keeper Jordan Pickford after a string of excellent saves that kept them in the contest. He now needs to try and help his team against a Bournemouth side who’ll be on the up after a strong 3-0 win over Norwich last time out. Despite their heavy loss to Tottenham, I don’t feel like Sunderland will be down heading into this one. There were positives they can take out of that loss to Tottenham who are clearly miles ahead of them. Whether they can win this one is another question as I feel Bournemouth might have to settle for a draw here. There will be chances for both sides but for me this one looks like a draw with Sunderland looking to keep things pretty tight at the back given they have conceded the most goals this season at 45, 7 more than any other side.
Predicted score: Draw 1-1
Best Bet: Exactly 2 or 3 goals at $1.91 (75%)
Next Best: Half-time Draw at $2
Watford ($2.1) versus Newcastle ($3.6), Draw ($3.4)
A month ago this would probably be a win for Watford but they seem to have lost their fight lately having lost their last 4 in a row. It now makes this a tricky fixture as Newcastle look like they are starting to get things going in their fight from relegation and that could well be the difference with Newcastle seemingly having a lot more to play for. Just the 1 point from their past 5 games puts Watford at the bottom of the league on form and they’ll need a bit of a switch in approach if they are to turn things around here. The problem is Newcastle are on the up after a 3-3 draw with Manchester United and a win over 6th placed West Ham. Probably the one thing counting against Newcastle here is they have scored just 5 times on their travels this season. That’s not a great record but one which I think won’t matter too much for this weekend as they start to turn the corner.
Predicted score: Draw 2-2
Best Bet: Watford to win either half at $1.55 (75%)
Next Best: Draw and both teams to score at $4.33
West Brom ($2.1) versus Aston Villa ($3.8), Draw ($3.2)
It’s still very much an uphill battle for Villa here as they try once more to claw their way out of the relegation zone. Currently 10 points off safety, they still have a lot of work to do but recent results suggest a bit of luck is falling their way so it’s certainly not impossible just yet if not improbable. Every game from now is a tough game regardless of the opposition and West Brom will make no exception of that. The Baggies were taken apart by Southampton last weekend in the league which was little bit unusual as they are generally a tough side to break down. They bounced back during the week in the FA Cup though to grind out a 1-0 away win against Bristol which should give a bit of momentum into this one. The problem I have with Villa is really that I trust West Brom more in this one given it’s also a home game. No doubt Villa will put up a contest but I’d expect the Baggies to edge this one.
Predicted score: West Brom 1-0
Best Bet: Under 2.5 goals at $1.5 (85%)
Next Best: West Brom to win at $2.1
West Ham ($5) versus Manchester City ($1.73), Draw ($3.75)
This looks a really good contest with meetings between these two in their last 4 being evenly split. West Ham won the last meeting 2-1 earlier in the season and won their previous meeting at West Ham last season by the same score. The Hammers too were on a good run of results before Newcastle surprised them last week but you’d still expect them to be very competitive here regardless of their last result. The carrot this weekend though for Manchester City is the chance to go top of the table with both Arsenal and Leicester facing tough fixtures this week. Their result against Palace last week too showed what they are capable of when in top flight with Aguero and Silva combining for 3 goals and 2 assists. West Ham may struggle in this one again with the continued absence of Andy Carroll as his height and size can be particularly useful against top opposition in disrupting their defence. Given the way City played last week it’s difficult to go against them here even if West Ham have a good recent record against them.
Predicted score: Manchester City 2-1
Best Bet: Over 2.5 goals at $1.66 (85%)
Next Best: Manchester City to win at $1.73
Everton ($1.7) versus Swansea ($5.5), Draw ($3.6)
With 11 draws already this season, Everton really need to string some wins together if they want to finish in the top 10. For the most part they have had a good season but the draws have hurt them a lot. As for their meeting with Swansea this week I’d be surprised to see Everton lose out here. Swansea had a 1-0 win over Watford last weekend but weren’t really all that convincing as they didn’t really create many chances with just 2 shots on target. I think Everton will outplay them here as they are still a threat up top despite not getting as many points as they’d like. They’ve managed 39 goals this season which is equal with Leicester and just 4 behind Manchester City. For Swansea, they’ve managed just the 6 points away from home this season and I don’t see them adding to this week.
Predicted score: Everton 2-0
Best Bet: Everton to win at $1.7 (85%)
Next Best: Everton to win to Nil at $2.8
Arsenal ($2.05) versus Chelsea ($3.75), Draw ($3.4)
This is a really interesting game with an unpredictable element that is Chelsea. Still lingering in the 2nd half of the table in 14th, Chelsea just don’t seem to be climbing the table anytime soon just 4 points above the drop and well off their reset ambitions of making the top 4 where they are now 14 points off the pace. The positive is they are undefeated in their last 6 games but have managed just 2 wins over that period. It suggest a stronger focus on defence whilst also freeing up their creative instincts a little but they still are not the same side as last season. For Arsenal, they’ve been a little off in recent weeks with 2 draws but the return of Alexis Sanchez could be the boost they need to edge this one in what I have no doubt will be a tough one. My thinking though is that regardless of Chelsea’s position on the table, they will make sure they don’t lose this one. And with Arsenal starting to feel some pressure at the top with the race for the title still really tight, I think Chelsea might be able to scrape a point from this.
Predicted score: Draw 1-1
Best Bet: Half-time draw at $2 (70%)
Next Best: First half – No goals at $2.94