This weekend of premier league fixtures is almost like an extended entree before the main feast of Arsenal v Birmingham in the Carling Cup final on Sunday night and then Chelsea v Manchester United in the league on Wednesday morning. Things are really starting to heat up at this time of the season with Champions League, Europe League and FA Cup matches coming thick and fast while the Premier League games take on greater significance as almost every fixture is a match involving a team chasing the title, a champions league berth or just trying to avoid relegation. In short, it is a beautiful time to be a football fan.
Aston Villa v Blackburn (0200 AEDT)
There is no early kickoff in England this Saturday, so Aussie EPL fans will have to wait up until 2am (in the eastern states) for some top flight kick-abouts. There are five 2am kick-offs, and alphabetically speaking, Aston Villa will host the first game of the weekend. Blackburn Rovers are their visitors and it will be an interesting match with the losing side potentially one bad result away from the bottom three. A careful look at the recent form reveals an Aston Villa team in good nick. The Villains have only been beaten once in their last 7, and that was by a rampaging Manchester United at Old Trafford. Impressive. Blackburn, meanwhile, haven’t won in over a month and did not even register a shot on target in their last match at home to Newcastle. Rovers have not won away from Ewood Park in 2011. Everything adds up to an Aston Villa triumph.
Andy’s Bet: Aston Villa to win @ 1.78 (Centrebet)
Andy’s Bet: Aston Villa to win by 2 or more goals @ 3.15 (Centrebet)
Everton v Sunderland (0200 AEDT)
Make no mistake, this is a crucial match for Everton. It is just as important as their FA Cup win over Chelsea last Saturday. If they lose their next couple of league fixtures they could easily be occupying a relegation position in a fortnight. Luckily the toffees don’t have a daunting fixture list, so that should give them some comfort going into this one. The optimistic Everton supporter would be hoping for a win in this match to be followed up by a win against Reading. That would mean a comfortable league position and qualification for the FA Cup quarter finals. Everton’s home form is pretty good, they haven’t lost at home since November last year. Sunderland’s impressive season is steadily grinding to a halt. The black cats have lost three in succession and really need a result here because they have three menacing fixtures immediately following this match – Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. Ouch! A draw won’t really do either side much good, but that’s what I’m going to put my cash on.
Andy’s Bet: Draw @ 3.80 (Betfair)
Newcastle v Bolton (0200 AEDT)
Newcastle have put together a tidy little sequence since trailing Arsenal 4-0 two and a half games ago. They stormed back to draw against the gunners, followed that up with an excellent display and clean sheet against Blackburn that earned another point, before a second successive shutout helped them to a victory at Birmingham. The mood at St James’ Park will be very positive and that will be sure to impact on the players. Bolton have only won away from home twice in the league all season. That statistic needs to be cautioned with the knowledge that Bolton have won their last two away fixtures in the FA Cup. The trotters will be boosted by the return of Daniel Sturridge. The on-loan striker was cup tied for those FA Cup matches but he will be back for this one and hunting for a fourth goal in as many matches. Watching Newcastle this season, I have discovered that they are very much a mood team and with the current verve on Tyneside, I can see them picking up another three points at home.
Andy’s bet: Newcastle to win @ 2.16 (Betfair)
Andy’s Bet: Newcastle to be leading at half time and at full time @ 3.30 (Sportsbet)
Wigan v Manchester United (0200 AEDT)
With twelve games left in their premier league season, each win for Manchester United is another game ticked off that they don’t drop points. Even if Arsenal win all of their remaining fixtures, United have to drop points at least twice in their last twelve matches. They won’t drop anything here, even though Roberto Martinez’s Wigan side have impressed me in recent outings. The latics are now unbeaten in their last four league games. Manchester United’s away form makes astonishing reading for a table topping team. The red devils have been victorious only three times in their twelve away matches so far this campaign. They have drawn a whopping eight times and lost only once. I am sure they will be aware of that statistic and be very keen to improve it. They won’t win the title unless they turn some of those draws into victories. With an Old Trafford showdown with Chelsea hot on the heels of this match, I anticipate Sir Alex will not field a full strength United team. However, it should still be good enough to get the job done.
Andy’s Bet: Manchester United to win @ 1.57 (Betfair)
Wolverhampton v Blackpool (0200 AEDT)
More than two thirds of the way of the season has passed and I don’t know what to make of Blackpool. Still! Ian Holloway’s side continually throw up perplexing results. After going on a wretched run of form for about two months, ‘Pool came out on Wednesday and smacked high flying Tottenham 3-1. I predict their up and down season will take another nose dive against a battle hardened Wolves side. Wolves are actually very solid in their home surroundings at Molineux. It has been well documented that Wolves have been knocking off the top teams but losing to the lower ranked sides. I am sure that the men in orange will look to prove a point while collecting three of them.
Andy’s Bet: Wolves to win @ 1.89 (Betfair)
Andy’s Bet: Wolves to win to nil @ 3.50 (Sportsbet)
West Ham v Liverpool (0030 AEDT)
Mr Charisma, Avram Grant, is struggling to guide the hammers to safety. The deadpan manager is doing with West Ham exactly what he did at Portsmouth last season. That is good cup runs coupled with rubbish form in the league. West Ham thumped Burnley to qualify for the FA Cup quarter finals. The opening goal in that game was a thunderbolt scored by Thomas Hitzlsperger on his West Ham debut. So a typical net busting goal from the German midfielder then, and a great way to mark his first appearance for the club after spending 5 months in the treatment room. West Ham are second from bottom, but the relegation scrap is so tight that a win in this match would likely lift the hammers out of the bottom three. They will face a Liverpool team fresh from a morale boosting win over Sparta Prague in the Europa League. Captain Steven Gerrard missed that game, but is expected to return to the starting line up in this one. New record signing Andy Carroll is still a few weeks away from making his Liverpool debut. Liverpool need to keep winning if they are to qualify for European competition next year and I think they will be too good for a cautious West Ham.
Andy’s Bet: Liverpool to win @ 2.18 (Betfair)
Manchester City v Fulham (0300 AEDT)
Tottenham’s defeat by Blackpool in midweek gives Manchester City a chance to build a gap back to a top four rival. Fulham are a difficult side to play against though, so Manchester City won’t have it all their own way. However, the cottagers have only won once on the road all season. Eastlands is not a fun place to go if you are a nervous traveller, and I think City are going to be fairly mean hosts.
Andy’s Bet: Manchester City to win to nil @ 2.38 (Sportsbet)
Arsenal v Birmingham (0300 AEDT) – CARLING CUP FINAL
Arsenal come into this game with two fresh injuries. Captain Cesc Fabregas will miss with a hamstring tweak and pacy winger Theo Walcott has been ruled out with a sprained ankle. This really makes things interesting as Fabregas in particular is an integral cog in the Arsenal machine. I think Birmingham are better than their league table suggests and they will give this final a real go. They may take it to extra time, but I’m expecting Arsenal to be just too good and sneak home by a goal. In the absence of Theo Walcott, nippy Russian winger Andrei Arshavin should get a start. Arshavin scored against Barcelona recently and he is decent odds to score the first goal of this final.
Andy’s Bet: Arsenal to win by exactly 1 goal @ 3.50 (Sportsbet)
Andy’s Bet: Andrei Arshavin to score first @ 7.00 (Sportsbet)
Stoke v West Brom (0700 AEDT)
The final game of the weekend will be the first game of Roy Hodgson managerial career at West Brom. This looks to be a better fit for him than the gig at Liverpool. West Brom fans will be hoping he can perform the same miracles that he did when he kept Fulham up in the 2007-08 season. The miracles will have to wait a week as Stoke will be too good for West Brom, exposing the baggies leaky defense.
Andy’s Bet: Stoke to win by 2 or more goals @ 3.55 (Centrebet)
Sneaky European Multi
A disappointing 0-0 draw in Valencia cost us a tidy collect for last week’s Sneaky European Multi. The other 5 results fell our way. This week we are looking for all six results to pull through for a sneaky success.
Andy’s Bet: Aston Villa, Rangers, Juventus, Schalke, Barcelona, PSG all to win @ 11.70 (Sportsbet)