Saturday 19th March
15.00 Chelsea v West Ham
We’ll get these previews going with a London derby. Having being dumped from the CL by Paris Saint Germain, Chelsea officially face a season with no hope of trophies. That’s quite the turnaround from this time last year. Still, it’s not their only turnaround since then. Once they rid themselves of much of their early season toxicity via Mourinho being shown the door, his replacement, Guus Hiddink, has affected another change in fortunes.
Although they have yet to lose a match in the league under the Dutchman, they have lost their last two games; said tie against PSG and latterly against Everton in the FA Cup. Could it be that the CL loss has had a disheartening effect on the players? Time will tell but as it stands, they’re 10th in the league on 40 points, just 7 points short of 6th placed Manchester United. That’s quite a gap at this point in the season and usually you wouldn’t give them much of a chance to make up that ground but this season has been so bizarre that very little is surprising anymore.
West Ham have had a far more enjoyable season than their London rivals under the tutelage of Slavan Bilic. They’re 5th in the league and are just two points from the top four. The much-loved Boleyn Ground is having a fitting send off before they move to a shiny new ground paid for by the tax-payers money. One of the signings of the season, Dmitri Payet, has had such an outstanding time of things that he has been rewarded with a call up to the French national team and will be a shoo-in for the much coveted Team of the Season.
The Hammers have been very impressive having recently beating Everton away and putting a stop to Spurs’ winning run with a 1-0 win at home. To go all clichéd on it, they’re an impressive team that play with confidence, purpose and aggression. Aside from their 4-1 loss to Spurs in November, they have never been, excuse the pun, hammered and are a tough team to better.
Chelsea’s home form of late hasn’t been great having picked up just seven points from a possible 15 and they are now without resurgent goal-scorer, Diego Costa, to a three game ban. Things don’t look good for them up front. January loan acquisition, Pato, it must be assumed, has been kidnapped as ne’er a sign has been seen. So it’s probably up to Remi or young Traore to take up the baton and score. This column has a feeling they won’t have enough quality or enthusiasm for this West ham team so we’re going for a Hammers win. The bookies, yet again, don’t seem to giving West Ham their dues and so Bet365 are offering a wonderful price of 17/4 for the away win.
15.00 Crystal Palace v Leicester City
It was around this time last year – ah yes, I remember it well – that many were lauding the managerial skills of the previously much-maligned and little-loved Alan Pardew for his stirring work in re-energising a Crystal Palace team that had been put through a filter named Tony Pulis. Here was the confident soldier of English managers, showing that it wasn’t just those foreign types that could manage, loudly making cases for the home boys to get the top jobs. The boys from the press warmed to him and all was well in the world of Pardew.
Step forward the new season and Palace pick up where they left off, charging through the opposition with some gleeful abandon, best epitomised by Yannick Bolassie, the closest thing to a magician in the league. Sure, their strikers weren’t scoring goals but the marauding wingers and Cabaye were doing the business. And then, as sure as Pride’s next destination is the Fall, they have begun to sink like cement shoes. From CL places over Christmas to 15th place come Spring, it has not been a happy year for Palace.
Yes, injuries have taken their toll yet that is the norm for most squads over the course of the season. Over the last 15 league games, only the doomed Aston Villa have a worse record than the Londoners. In a season of little cheer for Newcastle supporters, at least they can grab some crumbs of the I-told-you-so variety as Palace’s current form mirrors that of Newcastle’s when Pardew was in charge.
Leicester a really in the driving seat now. With just 8 games left to play they are 5 points ahead of 2nd placed Tottenham and are showing little sign of the nerves that would afflict the more established teams in their position (Arsenal, we’re looking at you). For those Hunter S. fans among you, it really seems as if they have just given themselves over to the whims of the Great Magnet and said force is wanting them to triumph.
Whereas Palace’s home form over the last 5 games has seen them pick up a mighty 0 points, the Foxes’ away form over the same period has seen them pick up 10. If these results could be called on form and form alone, then there would be no contest between the two but such is the yawning chasm between the respective teams form, it would be bordering on insane not to back Leicester to win. 31/20 from BetVictor seems to be the price about.
Sunday 20th March
16.00 Manchester City v Manchester United
Another big derby in a weekend full of them – the Battle for Manchester. But which Manchester? The American one or the one from the Middle East? The stench of hubris and decadence hangs heavily over both these bloated behemoths, slowly sucking away at the life force of good will and innocence. That might be overstretching the mark (or may not even make sense) but seriously, when you look at how much money both these clubs have spent in just the last three years and then measure it up against the talent and attitude on display, it is hugely disconcerting.
Do you know that in their last 4 matches in all competitions (8 matches between them), there has been a single win and that against Aston Villa? In a season where no-one beyond Leicester and Spurs seem to want to win the damn league, these two teams seem to have basically thrown their hats at it. How is it, that after spending the best part of £80 million pounds on two young defenders in Otamendi and Mangala, they’re still conceding more than a goal a match? Of course, one could point to their injury-prone captain, Vincent Konmpany, and his prolonged absences but really, when you spend that type of money on two players who are demonstrably average in many regards, you know that something is not right in the club’s strategy.
Utd, too, have splurged like drunken yuppies at a coke party with all manners of big money being spent for very little return after a brief high. Marcus Rashford, an 18 year old, has suddenly become a first team regular. Now injuries play a huge part in the promotion of so many young players but when you’ve spent hundreds of millions in the last few seasons, it is reasonable to expect that your squad, let alone your starting team, should be of the very best quality.
At least for City, they have good news with the arrival of Pep Guardiola over the summer; mind you, there’s a good deal of players who might not feel so cheery about that. But for Utd, what next? Do they bring back the malignant, low-rent spectre of Mourinho in the hope of matching City, world class manager for world class manager? From this vantage point, it seems like City will have the stronger attractive force for swing vote players insofar as this column assumes most players would prefer to play for the Spaniard over the Portugese.
But that is all in the future and we should be concerned about this upcoming tie but in truth, this column is not. Honestly, we could hardly care less about this corporately dystopian money fight. With little regard to anything other than what our three eyes have told us from watching both teams recently, neither team are playing especially well but of the two, City carry the greater goal threat and that will be the deciding factor for this columns nod. With not a great deal of confidence, City to win. BetFair have you covered there for a price of 17/20.