Saturday 6th February
12.45 Manchester City v Leicester
For those of you who listen to the Season Ticket podcast (to be found on this site), you will have noted that we engineered a kind of face-off in relation to the matches this weekend. Briefly, it entailed Rob doing a load of number crunching (he claims it’s the same type bookies use but he’s yet to explain his methodology…) and then comparing his results with those that this column thought most likely. Man versus machine? It probably won’t end well.
First up, it’s the top of the table clash between the high flying Foxes and a home side who have just received a late Christmas present in the shape of the summer arrival of one Pep Guardiola. So it’s safe to say that this is a match between two teams on the up. With a figurative gun put to the head, this column went for a 2-2 draw. Let’s see why.
Both teams average nearly two goals for and one goal against in the league to this point (mind you, Leicester have conceded just one in their last five games). If Vardy is the surprise package this season in terms of goals, Aguero has arguably been finest exponent of the art for several seasons now. It seems likely that both teams will score goals and it could be an absolute cracker.
What likely will add to the spectacle is City’s defense, or to be more accurate, their hackneyed attempt at such. With captain and sorely missed leader, Vincent Kompany, yet to re-emerge from his injury cave, it looks like Laurel and Hardey will be manning the barricades in a slapstick effort to repel the irresistible force of Vardy et al. Leicester’s back pair aren’t quite as calamitous but admirable lugs as they are, they’ll have one hell of a time trying to keep tabs on Aguero and Silva.
Leicester showed some exquisite one-touch football in their victory over Liverpool and if they can get into positions to do so again, they may well bamboozle the sometimes slow City midfield. Having said that, they have some of the lowest possession stats for all teams in the league and they don’t necessarily need much of the ball to inflict a lot of damage. As mentioned previously, this column reckons a draw is your man here with MarathonBet offering 17/5. Having said that, the 5/1 being hawked by a few other sites for a Foxes’ win might be worth a think.
15.00 Tottenham Hotspur v Watford
We’re still kicking ourselves that we didn’t back Spurs to be league winners when odds of 22/1 were being offered just two short months ago. The London side come into this tie on the back of five straight wins in all competitions and are now sitting in third, ahead of Arsenal on goal difference and just five from the summit. Without a hint of exaggeration, this is the best, most rounded Tottenham side in years and they must be thought of as serious title contenders.
They saw fit to steer clear of the winter transfer window which means that they still don’t have a like-for-like senior replacement for Harry Kane, should he get a knock. Argentine manager, Pochettino, reasons that either of Son or Chadli can ‘do a job’ and fill in for the Englishman if need be. Spouted from the mouth of most other managers, that would seem naïve in the extreme but, when you consider his managerial career in England thus far, it doesn’t sound so daft as the man rarely puts a foot wrong.
Watford are another team with a good manager who is quietly (by BPL standards) going about his business. It looks as if Watford have arrested their slide, evidenced by their two wins and a draw (against Chelsea) from their last three games. This column was informed that, even though said draw ended 0-0, Ighalo was having a fine time for himself turning Chelsea’s payers inside ot and the team as a whole put in an impressive shift. That will have to be their base level if they hold any real hope of taking something from this game.
In the Man v Machine part of the podcast, this column went for a 3-1 win for the home side. Put on the spot and lacking any information regarding the Watford v Chelsea game, that score line now strikes us as slightly on the high side of things. Which isn’t to say that Spurs can’t do it but likely Watford will make them work hard. We’re still going for a Spurs win, however. The best price going is 1/2 from PaddyPower amongst many others.
Sunday 7th February
13.30 Bournemouth v Arsenal
Ohhh, this could be a juicy one alright. Perm-optimistic Bournemouth play host to an Arsenal team that is fading fast; which is to say, plus ça change. If that sounds slightly bitter, there’s a chance you could be right. Granted, Arsenal’s treadmill of travails is generally humorous enough but can you imagine being an Arsenal fan?! Being relatively neutral in these things, this column gets more than a bit put out by watching an Arsenal team that should be there or there abouts in the shake down each season being constantly hobbled by managerial stubbornness and an underbelly softer than a crème brûlée – sure, there’s a hardened crust but boy, it’s one fragile defense.
Bournemouth, whilst not out of danger, claimed a delicious win away at Crystal Palace mid-week and are now seven points above the drop zone. It would be stupid to say that they are safe with so many games still to play but they must take heart from the fact that, with Villa six point adrift at the bottom, there is a good chance that there are really only two relegation places available and they are in far better form than the rest of the teams scrapping below them.
The Cherries spent a fair whack of money over the Christmas and in Benik Afobe, they have a striker with a serious penchant for scoring. Three goals since his arrival augur well for the rest of the campaign. Their goal difference of minus 10 points to the worrying imbalance that they looked to correct and it seems as if they have the right man for the job.
What to say about the Gunners? Honestly, at this stage, we’re beginning to feel like we did when Mourinho was having his early season melt down – that is, bored. Very, very bored. Arsenal have reverted to type, which is to say Type A. Type B is when they are fit and firing and look damn near untouchable. Sadly for Gunners fans, Type B is, alas, somewhat ephemeral. Type A is most other times: it’s when the injuries pile up and people ask why no replacements were ever sought or bought, it’s when their heads go down and they get spanked by Chelsea (again), it’s when managers and players come out in midweek and loudly proclaim that this team has incredible mental strength prior to folding under pressure.
That list could go on for a while but suffice it to say, whilst the Gunners always remain a threat due to the players at their disposal, Type A seems to have settled on the couch for the time being. With that in mind, this column is going to plump for a draw. Now that Bournemouth have a razor sharp tip to their spear, one would back them to score but with a defense that’s only alright, one should expect the same from the Arsenal. Best price for a draw comes from BetVictor at 12/5.