Saturday 31st October
12.45 Chelsea v Liverpool
As much as this column longs for the days of watching paint dry as opposed to writing about Chelsea this season, the early Saturday kick-off is too much of a headline match to pass up. Unfortunately. Six league wins (three each) between both teams after twenty games doesn’t exactly scream box-office in terms of quality but with Jose Mourinho involved, there might be fireworks anyway. Unfortunately.
Right, let’s get Chelsea out of the way first, what’s happened since last we met? Well, they managed to lose away to West Ham and Mourinho managed to get himself sent to the stands. A cursory glance at previous posts will tell you everything you need to know about this column’s assessment of the manager’s antics so there is no earthly reason to rake over those embers but it has been instructive to observe Mourinho apologists and acolytes this past week as they took it in turns to abandon their one-eyed faith in the previously faultless one. The perception seems to be growing that the emperor is becoming somewhat threadbare.
In times past with his team in better form, Mourinho would have relished the chance to quickly and firmly apply the boot to a new managerial contender – in the football vernacular, to let him know he’s there. However, this is a Chelsea team operating at about 65% of last season’s efficiency and will be without Matic as a result of his sending-off against West Ham. Admittedly the big man hasn’t been in great form this season but, in his absence, some shuffling of the deck will be required which may result in a less-than-impressive midfield duo of Fabregas and Mikel.
This should be music to the ears of a Liverpool team who, despite their midweek win against a below-strength Bournemouth (the Anfield side, too, were operating with plenty of squad players), are without a win in the league in the league since week 7. It’s true that Klopp has yet to lose since his arrival but he would dearly love a league win here to add some coals to the spluttering furnace. In his favour, the noises regarding the chance of Benteke starting on Saturday have been positive although it seems that Daniel Sturridge may be out a while yet and Liverpool are a much slicker outfit when he is on the field.
One suspects that neither manager would be too disappointed to come away from this encounter with a draw and given the current state of both sides with regard to form and absentees, perhaps a draw is as much as either side can hope for. Betfred are offering 5/2 for that outcome.
15.00 Crystal Palace v Manchester United
It’s been said by some that Alan Pardew is a streaky manager. Those with a decent memory might recall the fantastic run that Newcastle went on around this time last year which effectively was enough to keep them from relegation, despite the best efforts of John Carver, Pardew’s successor in the Toons’ hot-seat. That form, however, quickly fell away and Pardew got the sack not long after.
This blow did little to dent the manager’s confidence and he took a struggling Crystal Palace and guided them to a comfortable tenth place finish. They’ve done enough this season to see them sit in seventh a quarter of the way through the league but their form over the last five games reads W2 L3, their last two matches being losses. A loss at home to Utd wouldn’t necessarily imply the veracity of the aforementioned ‘streaky’ hypothesis but Pardew needs to turn things around sooner rather than later to re-ignite the belief in a team built on confidence.
Funnily enough, confidence seems to be in short supply at Utd as might be evidenced by the regularity of some incredibly vapid and anaemic performances, home and away. Last weekend’s top of the table clash had as much energy as a post-pills crash with Utd somehow contriving to not have a single shot, on or off target, in the first half. The only football-related story taking up as much ear and eye space as Mourinho at the moment is the form of Wayne Rooney and by god its’s as laboured and boring as the man himself. His form is rotten and regardless of whether or not you think he might rediscover it (probably down the back of the couch), it seems obvious enough that his current inclusion in the starting eleven is hampering the team and blunting whatever hope there is for attack in Van Gaal’s risk averse world.
Even though Utd have four points from the last nine available, they still sit second in the league and have taken nine points from five away matches so far. Palace have been struggling a bit at home with two wins and three losses. Pardew has an ego sizeable enough to impress upon his players that Utd are there for the taking but they have to start scoring from open play more often as three of their last four league goals have come courtesy of the penalty spot and Cabaye’s unerring boot. It is difficult to call but a draw doesn’t seem too unlikely with many bookies like Betfred offering 5/2. The bookie-fodder amongst you might like the Palace win at 16/5 from Coral.
Monday 2nd November
20.00 Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa
One suspects that Spurs’ head honcho, Pochetino, is content for his team of young tyros to be flying under the radar to the extent that they are presently. Leicester, guided by Claudio Ranieri’s nerveless faith in his team and Vardy’s incredible goal-scoring form, have rightly received plaudits for their efforts this season yet the widely-unheralded Spurs sit just two points behind them. Since their somewhat unfortunate opening day loss to Manchester Utd, they remain unbeaten and, taking the last five games into account, sit second in the form table.
In fact, the main pressure that has been associated with Spurs this season has been that felt by Harry Kane as he struggled to recapture the lethal form of last season. Luckily for the likeable chap, he helped himself to a hat-trick in their demolition of Bournemouth last weekend and that might be sufficient to re-ignite his eye for goal. The thought of pitting himself against the Lescott-Ricjards defensive partnership is unlikely to dampen his newly-found enthusiasm.
Villa, in case you haven’t heard, have parted company with manager Tim Sherwood in a move only slightly more surprising then the sun rising in the morning. To give him his dues, he did very well to keep Villa up last season but as many suspected, the skills necessary to compete over the course of a season are currently, if not permanently, beyond him. He benefitted greatly by the need of some sections of the English media to have a heart-on-the-sleeve-home-boy within the managerial ranks of the top flight but sadly for Tim and his backers, bluff and bluster rarely better brain and substance. Still, a purported £2 million pay-off will act as some crumb of comfort for the man.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Villa were the fifth highest spenders over the summer and to say they have little to show for it would be entirely accurate. Now that’s not to say that they don’t have the players capable of fighting their way out of relegation but they have been so out of sorts this season that it is difficult to imagine them getting their act together any time soon. Frenchman, Remi Garde, has been widely touted as the favourite to take the vacant post but complications seem to have arisen and as it stands, Kevin McDonald is still in situ as caretaker coach. Until that situation is resolved, don’t expect any upturn in fortunes for the Villans.
A home win for Spurs seems to be about the safest money this round – any other result would surely make the sky fall down. Paddypower, amongst other establishments, are offering 4/9 for the home win.