Saturday 23rd April
15.00 Bournemouth v Chelsea
The year is 2015 and the season is coming to a close. Chelsea have eased off and are just cruising to the BPL title. Now imagine that a time traveller from today were to arrive in your kitchen, loudly demanding a cup of tea. In exchange for the hot beverage, this time traveller tells you that, as it stands on the 23/04/16, Bournemouth are just three points behind Chelsea. Confused, you look to get some more information from this odd person but just like that, they’re gone.
What would you make of that? This column suggests that most people would look at that information and infer that Bournemouth were to have a barnstorming season, there or thereabouts the European places. Very few, surely, would predict the annus horribilis the reigning champions were to endure. Given how volatile and unpleasant their previous manager is, maybe not too many would be surprised to learn that the Portuguese boss was sacked (again) but to find themselves in 10th place on 44 points with just five games to play? Mon dieu, c’est impossible!
It’s true that Bournemouth haven’t exactly had a barnstorming season but they can be more than proud of their work this season. They are 11 points and four teams clear of the drop zone, an incredible position for a team that was one of the early season favourites to drop back down to the Championship. If that time traveller had told boss, Eddie Howe, they would be three points worse off than Chelsea with just a handful of games left in the season, he’d have ripped your arm off (probably not, he seems like a very nice man).
Anyone who watched Chelsea v Manchester City last week would be quick to testify that are now just phoning it in. That match saw them ship three goals with no reply and City could easily have had more. Even Willian, their outstanding player this season, hardly looked arsed. It must be awful difficult to work as hard as you should when you’ve little to play for and a weekly wage that dwarfs most people’s annual income. Someone should compose a nocturne in their honour.
Bournemouth will certainly approach this tie with far more zest than the Londoners. Although they are safe, it is conceivable still that they could get a top ten finish and should they beat Chelsea, they will be joint tenth until the next round of matches – joint tenth with Chelsea. This column is of the opinion that Bournemouth are in with a decent shout of winning here. BetVictor have a tasty and slightly weird 85/40 for that outcome.
15.00 Liverpool v Newcastle
Liverpool are on quite the run recently, their midweek 4-0 thrashing of Everton being the third game in their last four where they scored four. The shooting boots are primed and polished. Sadly for them, though, young Belgian hotshot, Divock Origi, suffered an injury in the Merseyside Derby courtesy of very dangerous tackle from Everton defender, Funes Mori (the defender has since issued an apology to Origi). It looked for all the world like he’d suffered a broken ankle but luckily for him, there was no break.
A break (of the metaphorical kind) is what current Newcastle boss and former Liverpool manager, Rafa Benitez, is hoping for when he takes his team to visit his old charges. The Spaniard has not been in the hot seat at Newcastle for long but you’d imagine they wished they moved for him sooner as his impact on the team has been apparent in their last two games. January recruit and captain, Jonjo Shelvey, has been dropped to the bench for the last two games and the more defensively minded Cheik Tiote has been recalled. A 3-0 win over Swansea and a very creditable 1-1 draw with Manchester City has gained them a vital four points in their late charge to avoid relegation yet again.
In truth, they might consider themselves unlucky insofar as Aguero’s goal for Man City was clearly offside. Of course, it’s a fool’s errand to place too much store in hypotheticals but if that goal had been disallowed and Newcastle managed to win, they would now be level 17th placed Norwich on 31 points. As it is, they are 19th and a point below their fierce regional rivals, Sunderland. It should be noted that the Black Cats have a game in hand over the Toonsters. Newcastle are running out of road.
So is Benitez likely to get a break from Liverpool? One would have to think not. The scousers have been in flying form and are a nightmare to play against. They buzz and harass, they dart and they shift in carousel constant motion. It’s the type of form which, if it could be sustained for a season, would see them much higher up the table. If only they could bottle it (not a jibe at Arsenal). It’s really hard to see past Liverpool here. Their form coupled with Newcastle’s abysmal away record (7 points in 17 games), means this should be a dead cert in favour of the home team. Many Liverpool fans may still be warm to Benitez but if he expects any kind of special treatment on the pitch, we suggest he look again at the Liverpool v Dortmund game. BetBright have the best price at 5/8 for a Liverpool win.
Sunday 24th April
14.05 Sunderland v Arsenal
This has the makings of an interesting match. If you were to ask this column’s opinion prior to Arsenal’s match against West Brom last night whether the London club would win against Sunderland this Sunday, we would have answered in the negative. It seems like Sunderland are kicking into gear and Arsenal were spluttering but the Gunners put in a solid performance against the Baggies last night and will have drawn some confidence from their display.
Granted, West Brom were hardly likely to rattle Arsenal to any great extent but then again, they did beat them in the corresponding fixture earlier this season, managing to post two goals with only one shot thereby rewriting the rules of what can be considered ‘efficient’. Still, though, it’s really on this Arsenal team who could lose in such a manner and Sam Allardyce will have spent every day of training this week telling his players how weak Arsenal can be, how it’s possible to rough them up and knock them from their pretty patterns. Traditionally, Allardyce has little to no time for Arsene Wenger as a manager and possibly even as a man and would dearly relish and cherish the opportunity to throw all manners of spanners into the Frenchman’s works.
It’s also true that Arsene Wenger isn’t exactly Sam’s biggest fan, whatever about as a man but certainly as a manager. For the ideologically driven romantic, Sam’s purity of purpose/agricultural approach really grates and the physical edge his players will bring to bear on Arsenal is unlikely to warm Wenger’s cockles. You’re nearly guaranteed that tempers will boil between the managers on the sidelines and that always makes for amusing viewing.
Sunderland are in a relatively promising position, sitting as they are in 18th. Basically, they are point ahead of Newcastle and a point behind Norwich with a game in hand over both. If they can manage a win on Sunday, it would be a huge boost to their survival ambitions. Draw and they’re in a straight race with Norwich, lose and it’s a crap shoot between the three.
All of our instincts are screaming to bet against an Arsenal win. Too often we’ve been burned by Arsene’s merry bottlers in games they should have won, too often we’ve looked at silly things like player quality and form to develop opinions on likely outcomes. And we really want to bet on a Sunderland win as the hosts are in with a decent shout of getting something from the match. Best advice here is to utterly disregard our tip, however, as we are, stupidly and unforgivably, going to go for an Arsenal win. This column rarely learns. Bet365, amongst others, have a price of 4/5 for the Arsenal win. Seriously, though, don’t do it.