12.45 Manchester City v West Bromwich Albion
Let’s throw out some statistics from their last 12 matches and see if we can identify which team they belong to: W6 D3 L3 and W3 D3 L6. If you guessed that the first set of figures represents West Brom, you are right and can claim the prize* (*there is no prize). As noted in this column previously, Man City are doing their level best to hand a limping Chelsea the title this season.
In fact, conspiracy nuts might even claim that City are just a proxy team of Chelsea, set up by Mourinho as a fake stalking horse but that’s so far-fetched that only Mourinho himself might believe it. City were booted out of the Champions League midweek by a rampaging Barcelona (well, rampaging in the first half, stand-by mode in the second) and had ‘keeper Joe Hart to thank for saving them from a shellacking.
Hart aside, there weren’t many City players who looked like their heart was in it. Will they carry this indifferent form into the match against West Brom? It is a difficult call to make. One can be sure that West Brom boss, Tony Pulis, will be telling his players that they are unlikely to get a better opportunity to get one over the reigning champs. The notion that many of City’s players are effectively mercenaries whose passion doesn’t really reside in Manchester certainly works in West Brom’s favour. Against that is that their poor away form which has recently seen them lose consecutive matches to Aston Villa. As poor as City are at the moment, it seems unlikely that they won’t beat West Brom at home and Paddypower amongst others is offering 1/3 on that outcome. However, given that this column found two euro on the floor and plans to go wild with it, the price of 11/1 for a West Brom win is worth a giggle.
15.00 Southampton v Burnley
During the week, someone mentioned the fact that Burnley’s transfer spend has been about £51 million. Since the club began! City spent nearly that much last summer on a defender who usually resides on the bench. Burnley have been praised on these pages before and it is no secret that many would like to see them stay up this year as they are as close to the definition of ‘plucky underdog’ as it’s possible to get without feeling nauseous.
Having beaten City last week (and in turn taking 4 from a possible 6 points from the reigning champions this season) they will no doubt feel that they have it in them to take a positive result from their visit to Southampton. The Saints claimed a creditable point away at Chelsea last week and will feel confident that they have the requisite skills to put Burnley to the sword. However, goals are still an issue for them.
Manager Ronald Koeman promoted Shane Long from the bench at the expense of the mis-firing Pele last week and while the Irishman repaid the faith put in him by his boss, he may not be the answer if the question is “where for art our goals?”, as for all his positive attributes, dead-eyed marksmanship has not been one of them. This match has the smell of a draw off of it and likely a low-scoring one, too. Bet365 are one amongst a few who are offering 7/2 for that result.
17.30 West Ham v Sunderland
Nothing screams ‘glamour tie’ more than a slog between the two teams currently sitting bottom of the form table after the last 5 matches with only two points each in that time. Yikes. Sunderland have dispensed with the services of Gus Poyet in a move that arguably should have taken place months ago. It took a 0-4 pasting at the hands of Aston Villa (with all goals scored before half-time) to finally convince the board to look elsewhere for managerial guidance. That and a good deal of the fans leaving before half-time. Unwavering loyalty from fans can often be a source of great benefit and undeserved solace to the men upstairs (see Newcastle) but the money men get anxious when unwavering morphs to wavering and so Poyet had to go.
Although West Ham still retain the services of Big Sam, all the noise seems to be pointing toward a summer exit for this most sophisticated of managers. The carousel of uncertainty surrounding both clubs at the moment has an inevitable knock-on effect with regard to team performances, as is evidenced by Sunderland’s slow drop to the bottom and West Ham’s complete implosion when put beside their incredibly impressive form prior to Christmas. This match really is the definition of a crap-shoot (‘crap’ being the operative word) and for that reason alone it might be worth a punt on a Sunderland win as Betvictor is offering 4/1 for that result.