Saturday 8th November
12.45 Liverpool v Chelsea
The keen observers among you may have noticed that Liverpool’s season hasn’t exactly reflected their buccaneering form of last term. Gone are the goals and the confidence that so entertained fan and foe alike. Last weekend they lost to a resurgent Newcastle but in a tie that has produced more goals than any other since the inception of the EPL, Liverpool were held goalless and had only 3 shots on target in the whole match. In midweek Champions League action, they lost 1-0 away to current holders, Real Madrid, with a team shorn of many of the star names such as Gerard, Sterling, Henderson, Balotelli, Coutinho and Lovren.
Many fans felt this was, at best, naïve, with more alarmist folk considering it some kind of betrayal on the part of manager, Brendan Rodgers (it must be mentioned that the Liverpool ‘b-team’ put on an admirable display against Madrid).
However, it is entirely possible that this was a sensible gamble by the manager; by dropping some of his big names for a match of that magnitude, he may have whetted the appetite of some, especially as they saw from their bench on Tuesday that there are players ready and willing to step into their shoes if they don’t up their performance levels. Also, some of these big names may well appreciate the mid-week break, physically at least. They will need to draw from all available sources to put together a performance capable of beating Chelsea.
The London club, though, haven’t been at their imperious best recently. They managed to get an away draw to Maribor midweek (they won the home leg 6-0 two weeks ago) and, some would argue, were relatively fortunate to get a win against a good QPR side last weekend. Manager Mourinho has been on his soapbox recently decrying a perceived lack of atmosphere from his fans as well as issuing some ‘thinly veiled’ remarks about Rodgers’ midweek selection. As a general rule, if Mourinho is spouting in a scatter-gun way, it’s because he’s got concerns about the form of his team. Even as the away team, Chelsea are favourites here but this column thinks that a draw is a likely enough result. Bet365, amongst others, are offering 5/2 for that very outcome.
17.30 QPR v Manchester City
This column has been encouraged by QPR’s displays over the last number of weeks. A check of their results might question such optimism (LWL) but in the losses to both Liverpool and Chelsea, the R’s have shown a tenacity and confidence that was all too absent previously. As mentioned above, they may consider themselves unlucky not to have left with an away point against Chelsea last weekend.
After an awful capitulation midweek to CSKA Moscow, it is now just one win (and that a nervy 1-0 victory over Utd) in their last five outings (DLLWL respectively) – Man City are in a funk and don’t seem to have the resolve to address it. Key man David Silva is out injured and, lacking his guile, they may find it difficult to unlock a stubborn QPR defence, marshaled by the aging yet masterful Richard Dunne. At the other end of the pitch, Charlie Austin and Bobby Zamora are well placed to reap joy from an unsteady City backline. There is good value to be found for a positive QPR result which, given present circumstances, would not be a great shock. Boylesports are offering 4/1 for the draw whilst Betfred have a QPR win at 7/1.
Sunday 9th November
16.00 Swansea v Arsenal
For all the avoidable and utterly predictable mis-steps of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal this season, the fact remains that they have only lost two of their last ten games in all competitions with said losses coming against the teams currently occupying first and second in the league. They did, however, conspire to throw away a three goal lead against Anderlecht in the Champion’s League midweek, second choice left back Nacho Monreal having to fill in at centre half with a less than desirous outcome. Such is the price of Wenger’s frankly negligent interaction with the transfer market last summer and nearly any other transfer window you care to choose from in recent years. Confidence comes and goes rather quickly with this Arsenal team and the loss of their three goal lead in the aforementioned match won’t do them many favours coming into this tie.
What stands in their favour, though, is Swansea’s somewhat indifferent form of late. Although they left Goodison Park with a point last week, they also left the pitch with only ten men as walking brain-fart Jonjo Shelvey received his marching orders for two yellows. When he’s not busy serving suspensions for his predilection toward card collection, Shelvey can be a very effective player and play-maker. Shorn of his feral talents, Swansea might not rattle Arsenal’s midfield technicians as they could otherwise have done. Having said that, Bony might have a great time against whatever ‘centre backs’ Wenger chooses to employ. It will be an interesting match whatever happens but one suspects Arsenal may not come away with three points so once again this week, the draw looks good. That can be found at 5/2 from Betvictor amongst others.