Saturday 19th September
12.45 Chelsea v Arsenal
What a difference a day makes. Prior to the opening round of the Champion’s League proper, the consensus was that Chelsea were stuck in a sucking vortex of existential angst and Arsenal were a team on the up. And yet, after beginning their European campaigns, the tables have turned somewhat and it would take a brave man, woman or child to bet against Chelsea coming out on top this weekend.
Let’s take stock of what has just transpired: Chelsea took on Israeli side, Maccabi Tel Aviv, during the week and subsequently harvested a faith-restoring win courtesy of a 4-0 score line. This result came on the back of a 3-1 defeat to Everton last weekend which consigned Chelsea to their worst start to a season in decades and guaranteed a plethora of opinions regarding Mourinho’s ability to effectively lead his charges. In fact, Chelsea’s start to the season has been little short of disastrous with up to four of their erstwhile stalwarts suffering from a marked dip in form; Ivanovic, Fabregas, Terry and, perhaps most shockingly, Hazard have all ranged from ineffective to terrible.
All that being said, it would be foolish to think that their midweek victory (albeit against a very poor Israeli side) hasn’t boosted flagging levels of belief and intent amongst the players and they will hope to use it as a clean break, a chance to re-establish their credentials as reigning champions.
Arsenal, on the other hand… Well, what can one say about Arsenal and their travails that hasn’t been repeated verbatim a thousand times before? Their spineless performance against Dinamo Zagreb was much the same as any of their many other backbone-lacking performances over the last decade. When they really needed a player to grab them by the collar and attack their two goal deficit, none could be found. This is not a new problem by any stretch of the imagination but Wenger’s utopian adherence to Groundhog Day rules means that the barnstorming, barricade-charging player they need to harangue them to greater heights just isn’t there.
Prior to the midweek results, this column might have made Arsenal slight favourites going into this match but now that Mourinho has sucked sustenance anew and given the levels of antipathy he has for Wenger, it is hard to see anything other than a Chelsea win here. This isn’t to say that Chelsea will get their act together and rise again as there are serious problems at the club but for this match, they should have it nailed. Betvictor have that for 29/20.
15.00 Bournemouth v Sunderland
This match is unlikely to be the feature on Match of the Day on Saturday night but is included here due some exceptionally generous prices on the part of the bookmakers. Bournemouth, as has been noted on these pages before, are well-liked, possess a young manager that no-one has a bad word about and are having trouble picking up points and favourable refereeing decisions. In other words, they are this season’s Burnley and all the respect and patronizing plaudits they garner do not equate to a single point. Which is a shame for them as they could do with a few.
Sunderland are still without a win and although they started the season in terrible form, there were more than enough signs in their 1-0 home defeat to Tottenham to suggest that both the players and the manager have a better understanding of each other. Mason got the late winner for Spurs and Sunderland had a couple of shots off the post and crossbar and so can consider themselves unlucky not to have come away with something The team will have taken some measure of confidence from their display, however.
Which brings us to the price on offer. An away victory for Sunderland is currently being flogged for an extremely generous 9/2 by Betfred amongst others. This looks like the best value to be found this weekend.
Sunday 20th September
16.00 Liverpool v Norwich
Newly-promoted Norwich have had a promising start to the season and sit level with big-spending Liverpool on seven points. They had a great win last weekend, beating Bournemouth 3-1 with diminutive Irish no. 10, Wes Hoolahan, pulling the strings impressively in a man of the match performance. Taking three points from the one of their presumed rivals might effectively end up as the fabled six pointer come the seasons end.
Where to start with Liverpool? Although Benteke scored a goal of such ferocious beauty that it will surely feature as contender for goal of the season in their loss against Manchester United, it can’t take away from what was an abject performance by Rodgers’ men. This column mentioned Martin Skrtel last week and his oft-times haphazard approach toward defending. Well he was at it again against Utd, facilitating Martial’s debut goal with some figure-of-eight running in the box – the young French man might be well advised to send the tattoo-ed defender a nice box of chocolates by way of a thank you.
Liverpool looked like they hadn’t an idea what to do at any point prior to their going a goal behind. Danny Ings got his first start for the club and was promptly shifted out wide where, unsurprisingly, he was ineffective. Defensive midfielder, Lucas, who was very nearly shifted out to a Turkish club as he was considered surplus to requirements, is now seemingly first choice again. Young Gomes is a teenage centre back playing at left back. The Belgian forward, Origi, who Rodgers last year claimed would be world class, has hardly had a look in and, truth be told, will probably not become world class. The house of cards has been built on a foundation of suds.
Another point against Liverpool in this upcoming match is the fact that they begin their Europa League campaign when they travel to face Bordeaux on Thursday. Like Arsenal in midweek, Rodgers has decided to rest six of his regulars for the tie. Will it backfire or does Rodgers care about the Europa League at all? It’s hard to say but certainly the three day turn around is unlikely to be beneficial for the players who will start both games. For all these reasons (and many others), this column would not be at all surprised if Liverpool lost again and given that PaddyPower and others have the Norwich win at 5/1, that might be the result worth backing.