You would imagine that Reading will pose few problems for the champions, with the Royals rooted to the bottom of the table after QPR’s win last weekend. Rangers now travel to Newcastle hoping for back-to-back wins and a chance to haul the Magpies into trouble.
There is also a relegation six-pointer between Sunderland and Southampton at St Mary’s, although the action starts at the DW Stadium on Saturday lunchtime where we should see goals between Wigan and Arsenal.
Wigan v Arsenal 12.45
It is familiar territory for the Latics who reside in the bottom three of the Premier League as we approach Christmas Day although Roberto Martinez knows what’s required to finish 17th or better and his team are becoming old hands at surviving the drop.
Wigan have won just one of their last seven games although a low victory ratio is nothing new for the Lancashire side who have shipped at least two goals in each of their last seven games and it would be a surprise if they kept the Gunners at bay on Saturday.
Arsenal are fresh from a 5-2 hammering of Reading where they toyed with the home side at the Madejski Stadium for long parts of Monday’s game and they will be confident of another three points in this fixture, with the bookies offering a best price 3/4 (BetVictor free bets) that this happens.
Robin van Persie may no longer be at the Emirates although there are plenty of players in the squad that can make a goal scoring impact and Santi Cazorla was in the mood a few days ago when plundering a hat-trick.
The Spaniard is an 8/1 chance (bet365 bookmaker) to score the game’s opening goal, while team-mate Thomas Vermaelen will offer a threat from set pieces and it’s surely a matter of time before the Belgian opens his account for the season.
Wigan are a 4/1 poke to win this game and they will be encouraged by Arsenal’s inability to keep a clean sheet although it simply points to a high-scoring affair which should end in another defeat for the home side.
Manchester City v Reading 15.00
Probably not the fixture that the Royals would have wanted after that 5-2 thumping at the hands of Arsenal, although Brian McDermott’s side had to play this game at some point and at least there will be no pressure on the visitors to get a result.
Reading have just nine points from seventeen games played to date and have a doomed look about them although the same could have been said about QPR a month ago and the latter now have a fighting chance of survival.
The bookies are prepared to offer massive prices about an away win in the game at the Etihad Stadium, with Betfred going 20/1 about the visitors producing one of the biggest upsets in Premier League history, although they have lost six games on the bounce and any great escapes might have to start with Swansea at home on Boxing Day.
As for City, they recovered from the derby defeat with a timely win at Newcastle and should be able to cope without Vincent Kompany for this encounter, with the bookies likely to receive plenty of bets at odds of 1/6 (Coral) that the champions close the gap on Manchester United to three points.
Coral offer 17/20 about City winning to nil in this match if you think Reading can be kept at bay and the bottom club have only scored seven goals in nine away games this term which suggests this could be a bet worth having.
The home strikers have the potential to enjoy a field day against beleaguered opponents, with Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero both on offer at 7/2 to score the first goal of the game, while Yaya Toure looks a decent price of 7/1 considering the African Player of the Year loves to rampage forward at every opportunity.
Newcastle United v QPR 15.00
Alan Pardew will regard this as a bad time to be playing QPR, although Harry Redknapp will think otherwise about this trip to St James’ Park, with Rangers having finally broken their Premier League duck for the season and facing a team that are now just two points away from the relegation zone.
Many people had the Magpies as candidates for the drop at the start of last season before Newcastle surpassed all expectations with a magnificent campaign, although things haven’t gone according to plan this term and United have won just four of their seventeen matches to date.
You can back Pardew’s men at 11/10 (Ladbrokes free bets) to claim three valuable points in this match, something which would put some daylight between themselves and the relegation zone, although it’s worth pointing out that QPR are unbeaten in four matches which has coincided with Redknapp taking charge.
Rangers recently left the Stadium of Light with a goalless draw and another point from this away trip would suit the Hoops very well, with the new manager knowing that form at Loftus Road holds the key to whether he can perform the Great Escape with this team.
The draw looks pretty backable at 5/2 and the away win at 11/4 offers more value than the home win considering one team are on the rise and the other are fading at the wrong stage of the season.
Southampton v Sunderland 15.00
The spotlight was on Nigel Adkins a few weeks ago, although Southampton suddenly find themselves out of the bottom three despite having played a game less than the other teams at the foot of the table and this match represents the chance to climb several places in the Premier League.
The Saints have really picked things up at St Mary’s in recent weeks, with wins over Newcastle and Reading following on from that victory at Loftus Road. Three points would be very valuable ahead of away games at Fulham and Stoke, with the bookies making them strong favourites at 21/20 (Paddy Power free bets) to win the game.
Sunderland wouldn’t have been 11/4 (bet365 £200 free bets) to win this match at the start of the season, although the bookies are getting more aggressive with their odds about the Black Cats considering that victories are scarce under Martin O’Neill during the current campaign.
While the Wearside outfit aren’t haemorrhaging goals on the road, they have won just one of their nine road trips this season, with the latest defeat coming at Old Trafford last weekend having previously beaten Reading 3-1.
Steven Fletcher lasted 45 minutes of the last match but the Scot should be back for this crunch encounter, with Southampton having had an extended break thanks to Chelsea’s Club World Cup participation. It could make all the difference and that man Rickie Lambert is sure to be hungry for more goals.
Tottenham Hotspur v Stoke City 15.00
It’s a typical Tottenham home fixture where you think Spurs should probably claim all three points although there’s an uneasy feeling that Andre Villas-Boas’ men could be held to a goalless draw or even lose late in the game if they haven’t scored after 70 minutes.
The north London side were the same under Harry Redknapp, with the defence rarely proving to be watertight although they did beat an attacking Swansea team 1-0 last weekend and limited the Welsh side to half-chances.
If you do think the Spurs will go marching on to another win, you can get 4/6 (Coral free bets) that they beat a resolute Stoke side that don’t concede goals cheaply and you can bet Tony Pulis will have a game plan for the match at White Hart Lane which is likely to involve getting men behind the ball.
The Potters are enjoying a decent season and once again show little sign of getting sucked into a relegation scrap, with 24 points accrued from 17 matches and their unbeaten status at the Britannia Stadium can only be matched by Everton’s record at Goodison Park.
City have just one away win to their name although they are proving tough to beat on the road with five draws and they do have the best defence in the whole of the Premier League right now, with Asmir Begovic catching the eye of many top clubs thanks to his performances between the sticks.
Blue Square offer 14/5 about a draw, while the Potters are 11/2 to nick a victory and they will be hoping to stop Gareth Bale in his tracks, with the Welshman returning from injury in time for the hectic schedule of fixtures. Perhaps he will prove the match winner and Coral go 13/2 that he scores the first goal of this game.
West Brom v Norwich 15.00
Could the season yet go horribly wrong for the Baggies? It would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago, although West Brom have slumped since winning 4-2 at Sunderland towards the end of November, suffering three consecutive defeats before stemming the tide with a goalless draw at home to West Ham last Sunday.
Steve Clarke will be anxious for his team to get back to winning ways before a trip to Old Trafford at the end of December, with Saturday’s match at The Hawthorns representing a great chance for the Albion to steady the ship and the bookies go even money (Ladbrokes bookmaker) that the home supporters are celebrating.
Nevertheless, it is hard to oppose a Norwich team who now sit just two points behind their opponents in the Premier League table after a series of good results which means the Canaries are now unbeaten in their last ten games. More importantly, they have won their last three in the league and 3/1 (Blue Square) seems a chunky price about the visitors.
City were especially impressive in their last away match where the east Anglian side raced into a 3-0 lead against Swansea City and eventually won 4-3 thanks to some excellent performances including that of Robert Snodgrass. The former Leeds winger is a meaty 20/1 with Blue Square to score the first goal and let’s note that the Scot can take a mean free-kick.
West Ham v Everton 15.00
Many people clamour for a Premier League winter break and Marouane Fellaini can put his feet up and eat lots of turkey over the next few weeks, with the Belgian now serving a three-game suspension after being charged by the FA following his headbutt on Ryan Shawcross last weekend.
This is exactly the sort of fixture where Fellaini would be useful, with Everton coming up against a physical West Ham team who haven’t made a habit of losing at Upton Park this season despite a recent 3-2 reverse at the hands of Liverpool.
Sam Allardyce was pleased with the way his team defended when earning a point at The Hawthorns last weekend and you can get 2/1 (BetVictor) that the Hammers claim three points against a Toffees team that have drawn many more matches (9) this season than they have won (6).
David Moyes will be aware of his team’s need to turn some of those draws into victories if the Merseyside club are to finish ahead of Tottenham and Arsenal this season, while the absence of their star player will demonstrate whether the team can cope – especially as Fellaini’s absence might become permanent in January.
Everton did claim a point at the Britannia Stadium and can be backed at 8/5 (BetVictor free bets) to win at Upton Park although the draw surely offers the best value at 12/5 considering that the Toffees have drawn five of their nine away games, while another point would keep West Ham well away from the relegation zone.
Goals are likely to be on the cards in this game based on the stats and Everton have traditionally got a good record against their east London opponents, with Nikica Jelavic very much the main man at odds of 13/2 (William Hill) to be the First Goalscorer, although Steven Naismith will also try to assume the goalscoring responsibility and he’s an 11/1 chance to break the deadlock.
Liverpool v Fulham 17.30
It’s not a surprise to see Liverpool at odds-on to win Saturday’s televised encounter although a 33% win rate at Anfield does not marry up with odds of 4/7 about the Reds beating Fulham, even if the visitors are having the kind of slump that could yet see them dragged into a relegation tussle.
Brendan Rodgers was taken aback last weekend as Aston Villa arrived and promptly whipped his team by a 3-1 scoreline, with the manager admitting it was a result that he didn’t see coming, although it illustrates the inexperience of the Liverpool squad who will surely be strengthened come the January transfer window.
Perhaps it was just a bad day at the office for a team who were enjoying something of a resurgence before that game and they absolutely battered Southampton in their previous home match despite only scoring one goal.
The importance of Luis Suarez cannot be underestimated although it has been six matches since the Uruguayan last found the net and forwards tend to score in streaks, with the bookies offering 7/2 (Blue Square) that Saturday is the day where he finds the back of the net once more.
As for Fulham, their away woes continue and Southampton (20) are the only team to concede more goals on the road than the Cottagers (18). Clearly, when you ship two goals per away match, there is little chance of winning the game and perhaps the west London side will go back to basics for this match.
A draw is on offer at 3/1 (bet365) and Martin Jol will be happy to pick up a point after losing last weekend at Loftus Road, with Mladen Petric scoring an excellent consolation goal and the Croatian is a 10/1 chance to score first in this game.