FFT's Joe Brewin brings you his top picks for the Premier League this weekend...
Hull vs Newcastle (Sat, 12:45pm)
Two sides who could do with a win clash at the KC Stadium for Saturday’s early kick-off as Hull, 2 wins from 12, meet Newcastle, 1 from 7. The latter have at least had their managerial situation cleared up, though, and it’s… oh, still John Carver, carry on. Geordie boy Steve Bruce has watched Hull lose back-to-back games to nil at West Brom and West Ham, not least thanks to their crocked crop of strikers. Nikica Jelavic and Abel Hernandez could be fit to face the Magpies – potentially a huge boost for the Tigers. Carver has lost all 3 of his games in charge so far, and has serious work ahead to win around a disgruntled Toon support.
Best bet: Figure this one out then: Hull have failed to score in 10 of their last 14 Premier League matches. They've also shipped 17 goals in their last 12 home league games, managing just 3 clean sheets.
Newcastle, however, have conceded 2 or more goals in each of their last 5 league matches. Both teams to score (no) at 5/6 it is then.
Crystal Palace vs Everton (Sat, 3pm)
Alan Pardew’s already having a ball at Selhurst Park, it seems. Consecutive league victories over Spurs and Burnley have lifted the Eagles 4 points above the drop zone, while last weekend’s 3-2 cup win at Southampton added yet another feather to Pards’ increasingly technicolour cap. So far, so good. Now they face an Everton side who haven’t won away from Goodison Park in 6, losing their last 5 on the spin in a thoroughly miserable period. Roberto Martinez’s side have fired blanks in 4 of their last 6, meanwhile, and badly need something good to come their way soon. It might be a good idea to pick a penalty taker for this one.
Best bet: The bookies say this one won’t feature too many goals, but they’re forgetting Palace have conceded in each of their last 7 at Selhurst; Everton in 91% of away games this term. Both teams to score is 5/6.
Liverpool vs West Ham (Sat, 3pm)
Few would have had West Ham ahead of Liverpool this far into the campaign, but that’s just what Big Sam’s lot have managed after an excellent first half of the season. Just a point separates the two European chasers ahead of their Anfield showdown, with Liverpool having won 4 of their last 5 to lift themselves back into top-four contention. Brendan Rodgers’ side were knocked out of the Capital One Cup semi-finals in extra-time by Chelsea in midweek, and now return to a home ground they’ve won on only 3 times in their last 10 league games. West Ham haven’t tasted Anfield victory since 1963, but the Hammers are enjoying their best Premier League points haul at this stage of a season. Could they this time?
Best bet: You bet they could. Liverpool’s spiritual home has opened itself up to entertainment – after 10 goals in 7 games from mid-September onwards, its last 3 have produced 13. West Ham have conceded in every away game so far but scored in all but one, making both teams to score at 8/11 your top pick.
Man United vs Leicester (Sat, 3pm)
It’s still not right for Louis van Gaal & Co. but the Reds are trundling along nicely in fourth place thank you very much. Which beats last season’s stinking campaign, if only because the teams around them haven’t done quite so well. Before being held at Cambridge they beat QPR 2-0 at Loftus Road, but still have Arsenal and Tottenham breathing down their necks. Now they face a Leicester side on the up after claiming Spurs’ scalp in the FA Cup, and aiming to turn their positive form into points. Remember that 5-3? Exciting, wasn’t it. Nigel Pearson’s side have only lost 1 of their last 6 games in all competitions, but are still rooted to the foot of the table having won just 1 of their last 9 Premier League away games. Tip-top form required this time.
Best bet: It’s easy to forget how strong United have been at home – only Chelsea have claimed more points – and a Reds win to nil at 6/5 looks about right. They’ve only shipped 8 in 11 games at Old Trafford this term.
Stoke vs QPR (Sat, 3pm)
It seems Stoke have finally found their mojo. Having lifted themselves into the top half with a win at Leicester before the cup break, the Potters saw off Rochdale on Monday to tee up a fifth-round encounter at Blackburn. They’ve won 3 of their last 5 and lost only 1 of those – but there’s bad news: the in-form Bojan has been ruled out for the season with an ACL knee injury. What's more, Mark Hughes' men have only won 4 of 10 Premier League games at the Britannia this season, netting just 12 goals along the way.
The good news? They're playing QPR, who are yet to pick up a point on the road this term. 'Arry's lot have become the first team to lose their first 10 away games of a top-flight season since Sunderland in 1964/65, leaving them only two points above bottom side Leicester in the drop zone.
Best bet: All signs point to a win for the hosts, who at 8/13 aren’t worth the short odds. In this form they might be worth the clean sheet at 6/5, though, bearing in mind their opponents’ hopeless away run.
Sunderland vs Burnley (Sat, 3pm)
The one you’ve been waiting for folks... in no way whatsoever. In truth that’s mainly Sunderland’s fault, having bored onlookers senseless throughout the campaign with just 1 win from their last 12. Gus Poyet’s side couldn’t handle 3 league games without a draw in the Premier League, so decided to scrap out a horrible 0-0 with Fulham last weekend to make up for it. At least opponents Burnley have been interesting in recent weeks, although the Clarets have still won only 1 of their 10 away games this season, and kept as many clean sheets. Valiant points at Manchester City and Newcastle have proved Sean Dyche’s men won’t die without a fight, while in Danny Ings (scored in 3 consecutive matches, 2/1 to net anytime) and Ashley Barnes they have a strikeforce capable of winning them points.
Best bet: Sunderland have won only 1 of their 11 games at the Stadium of Light this season, drawing a snooze-inducing 6. The stalemate is 23/10.
West Brom vs Tottenham (Sat, 3pm)
Tony Pulis has just got it hasn’t he? His thing isn’t attractive, or likely to win hordes of admirers... but it just works. It’s hard to shrug off a tag once you’ve gotten pretty good at something. In Pulis’s case it’s helping teams survive – and at this rate, West Brom will. Victory over Hull in his first game was followed by a (somewhat fortunate) goalless draw against Everton, before Birmingham were dispatched in the FA Cup.
Aiming to deny the Baggies a third straight league clean sheet are a Spurs side that have lost just 1 of their last 8 league games and lie only 3 points behind fourth-placed Man United. 7 of their last 8 Premier League wins have been by a 2-1 scoreline (available at 10/1), while Harry Kane has netted 6 in his last 7 Premier League fixtures (7/4 anytime).
Best bet: With West Brom in Pulis mode, don’t expect goals to flow at The Hawthorns. But instead there’s value in Spurs leading at half-time at 11/5 – as they have done only fewer times than Chelsea and Man City this season. West Brom have shipped 17 goals in first halves this term, compared with 8 scored.
Chelsea vs Man City (Sat, 5:30pm)
Probably no Diego Costa through suspension, and no pre-match press conference for Jose Mourinho – thankfully, then, no shortage of drama for this potential title decider at Stamford Bridge. With 5 points separating these teams, Manchester City must win to put themselves in with a chance of overhauling Mourinho’s lot at the top of the table. Not-so-secret weapon Frank Lampard scored against his old side in the reverse fixture, and is 15/4 to do so at any time again. But no team has beaten City more often in the Premier League than Chelsea (22 times, the same as Arsenal), who have also won 11 and lost just 1 of the last 16 Premier League home games against the Manchester outfit. Manuel Pellegrini’s men simply can’t afford to let those numbers get worse.
Best bet: Chelsea are still formidable on home soil, having kept 15 clean sheets in their last 18 league games at the Bridge. Another Blues win to nil is 5/2, which on current form might just be the good bet here.
Arsenal vs Aston Villa (Sun, 1:30pm)
Arsenal fans have reasonable cause for satisfaction at the moment. Of course, they’re still in the hunt for their beloved fourth place, but where they differ from before is that this time they’ve finally gone and beaten a big gun on their own patch. Manchester City will still be smarting from the Gunners’ impressive 2-0 win at the Etihad, which Arsene Wenger’s side followed up with a 3-2 victory over Brighton in the FA Cup.
They’re on for a third straight league win for the first time this season, but now come up against Aston Villa, who’ve enjoyed some success at the Emirates Stadium. Indeed, only Chelsea and Man United (12) have earned more points at the Emirates Stadium than Villa (11) in the Premier League (W3 D2 L3). But this is a side who famously can’t score in the league – 522 minutes and counting.
Best bet: Even an Arsenal win to nil is shy of evens, and a -1 handicap even worse. You’re probably better off backing Villa’s relative solidity compared with their ineptitude in front of goal, so snap up the 6/5 for Under 2.5 goals – as has been the case in 73% of their games this season.
Southampton vs Swansea (Sun, 4pm)
Victory over Newcastle kept Southampton in third before their surprise cup defeat to Crystal Palace, making it 5 wins in 6 for Ronald Koeman’s Champions League-chasing high-risers. Now it’s back to St Mary’s, a ground on which they’ve kept 7 clean sheets in 11 matches, to face a Swansea side still adjusting to life without Manchester City-bound Wilfried Bony. The Welsh side haven’t beaten the Saints in 6 attempts, and gone 377 minutes without a goal against them for good measure. And, after 4 games without a win, boy could they do with bettering that record on the south coast.
Best bet: The evidence doesn’t stack up well for Swansea, not least considering creator-in-chief Gylfi Sigurdsson starts a three-game ban here. Over 1.5 Southampton goals is 5/6.
The FourFourTwo four-fold
Blackpool vs Brighton (4/5)
Bradford (4/5) vs Colchester
Hartlepool vs Plymouth (6/5)
Wycombe (5/6) vs Portsmouth
£5 returns: £65.30
Odds correct at time of publishing