Premier League Week 21 Preview

Tuesday 12th January 2016

19.45 Aston Villa v Crystal Palace

villa crystal palaceMon Dieu, you should feast your eyes on the price some bookies are offering for a Palace win here. Some adventurous bookmakers are offering odds of 31/20 for said result (more on that later). This is the equivalent of a put-your-house-on-it bet*, so abject are the home team but let’s get into it and see why this game might be worth a good wager. *Never do anything as stupid as that*

When you consider how utterly dire Villa have been this season, it can be difficult to recall that, under Martin O’Neill’s direction from 2007 to 2009, the Villans finished in 6th for three consecutive seasons. In fairness, they have been largely awful ever since O’Neill left; league finishes since then have been 9th, 16th, 15th, 15th and 17th would seem to indicate the general direction in which they are heading in.

Somewhat incongruously, Villa have scored two of the best goals in the EPL that this column has seen this season (step forward Messrs Ayew and Gil) and have some fairly decent players scattered amongst their ranks. Probably the biggest problem is their defense. Micah Richards and Jolene Lescott are probably the worst centre back pairing in the EPL and this in a league that also features such luminaries as Skrtel and Lovren.

Richards, for a start, played most of his career as a right back for Manchester City before an ill-fated move to Italy. He is a beast of a man and many entertained high hopes for him. Sadly for all concerned, he has never fulfilled his hoped-for potential and tragically for Villa, he has been shifted to the centre of defense and given the captain’s armband. After a one or two excellent seasons for Everton Lescott was bought by Manchester City and has been pants pretty much ever since.

All of which will have Pardew and his Palace charges licking their lips in anticipation of bountiful feast. For all their wealth of attacking skills, they haven’t been as prolific in front of goal as some of their performances might lead one to think. For example, their top goal scorer with five goals is French midfielder, Cabaye. This probably won’t worry them unduly, though, as the odds of anyone losing to Villa are rather high.

All of which makes the price for what should be a straightforward win all the more noteworthy. BetVictor are offering the aforementioned price of 31/20 for a Palace win. Easy money. Get on it.

Wednesday 13th January 2016

19.45 Manchester City v Everton

man city evertonThis column, amongst others, have been wondering out loud about the relative qualities of this Everton team and their current standing in the league. How is it that a team full of excellent young players (Lukaku, Besic, McCarthy, Kone, Barkeley et al) can be closer in points to the bottom three than the top three? Only two teams have scored more than them (City being one of those) yet, outside of the bottom three, only two teams have shipped more. What to do with a team like that?

For the neutral the answer is simple enough – sit back and enjoy. Everton supporters, though, might not be as easy going in that regard. In their favour, Everton did beat City just four days ago. The two teams faced off in the first leg of the semi-final of the League Cup with Everton coming out on top in a 2-1 victory. This will give them ample confidence as they head into this match as they were well worth their win.

City, one feels, weren’t too put out by said loss and would be reasonably confident of turning the Toffees over when they visit for the second leg. They should seek to use this league encounter as a battering ram to put Everton in their place and to reassert themselves as valid title contenders in the race to win the league.

City are a funny team. Not funny in the comedic sense but funny insofar as it’s quite difficult figure out exactly how good they are. They have arguably some of the finest players in the EPL yet they can often look less than the sum of their parts. In recent days, quotes attributed to Yaya Toure indicate that he was incensed to miss out on winning the African Footballer of the Year award, despite having won it for several preceding years. His agent has also been in the press, taking swipes at Pep Guardiola and his managerial abilities (Pep is widely considered as favourite to take the reins from Pellegrini). It’s not the type of talk one expects from a player of Toure’s stature and age.

It is episodes like these which tend to cast doubts over the commitment and mental fortitude of this expensively assembled team. There is always the suspicion that, if the pressure is too great, they don’t possess the necessary characters to cajole and barrack the team forward. Can Everton implant sufficient doubt into the City minds to knock them off their game? They certainly possess the skills to do so but City at home are a formidable beast having won 12 and lost 3 of their home games this season. A draw isn’t likely and City are heavy favourites given their form but with MarathonBet offering an incredibly tempting 29/5 for the Everton win, a couple of quid that way mightn’t be any harm.

20.00 Liverpool v Arsenal

liverpool arsenalDo Liverpool even exist anymore? They are currently in possession of an injury list that Arsene Wenger would be immensely proud of. Of the eleven players currently injured, no less than seven of them are due to hamstring complaints. In some quarters, this has raised the question as to whether there is any link between Jurgen Klopp’s training and playing methods or whether it is largely coincidental. Big Sam Allardyce has also waded in on the debate. He seems to have taken a dislike to Klopp (possibly due to comments the German made about Sunderland’s playing style) and has referred to him as a “soft German”, the insinuation being that he isn’t up to speed with the league and doesn’t know how to set his players up properly, hence the glut of injuries.

It may be true, of course, that the German’s famed fondness for a high pressing game has had an impact on the players’ hamstrings but, to be honest, there has been precious little energy in most of Liverpool’s recent games and Klopp has quite rightly pointed out that, given the congested nature of the winter fixture list, he hasn’t been able to do any training with his players at all, merely looking to keep them ticking over.

Arsenal, on the other hand, have only six injuries and a good deal of them are due back soon. They are also the form team in the league, having won five of their last seven and are top of the table, two points ahead of Leicester. In addition to winning some matches in style, they have also taken to playing poorly and still grabbing the three points. Arsene Wenger can often be accused of tactical stubbornness, never changing his approach regardless of the opponents. This season, however, he has shown that there’s new tricks in the old dog and his side aren’t afraid to cede possession and play on the counter, which they have done to devastating effect on occasion.

Only two teams have scored more than the Gunners and only two teams have conceded less so it’s fair to say that they’ve hit a balance that has been beyond them in previous seasons. It is because of facts like these that many are now tipping them to do the unthinkable and not make a bags of things by holding their nerve and winning the league. This column has a curious notion that if they were to be successful in that regard, Arsene Wenger might step aside and a certain Spanish manager might decide that Arsenal are the best fit for his vision but that’s a different article and bet altogether.

So how might this one play out? If this match had taken place six weeks ago, it would have been a much harder one to call as the respective form of both teams was markedly different then. But when you take into account Liverpool’s injuries and Arsenal’s form, the clever money should follow an Arsenal win. The best price at the minute for that result can be found courtesy of BetVictor at 29/20.