12.45 Arsenal v Liverpool
For reasons that have never been particularly obvious, this column tends to steer clear of these ties but given that it’s such a joyous part of the year, what with its homage to torture and blood sacrifice, let’s jump headfirst into the fun. Arsenal and Liverpool are the top two form teams over the last 15 games so punters should be in for a decent ninety minutes.
Out of the two, Liverpool need the win most having been beaten last time out by Manchester United; a body blow to their hopes of a top four finish and Brendan Rodger’s hope of charge for second place. A defeat here would leave them with a huge task to reach those Champions League places.
As a result of suspensions and injury, there are without Gerrard, Skrtel and Sturridge. It’s their captain that they’ll miss the least. Skrtel is a loss. Headless chicken though he assuredly is, he has been the main man in a very impressive backline. Sturridge never really clicked back into gear after his return from injury but now that he has yet again been struck down, there must be genuine fears about his long-term fitness. Not that the long term should be concerning them too much as they face a motoring Gunners side who have won 13 and lost 2 from the last 15 games. So many of their players are playing so well at the moment that one (or none) nearly feels sorry for their opponent.
Liverpool’s Moreno was caught out badly a couple of times against Utd last time out and if he thought Antonio Valencia was troublesome, there could be a whole hour and a half worth of pain coming down his wing on Saturday. It’s hard to see past an Arsenal win here. Best price is 20/23 and can be found at Betvictor.
15.00 Leicester v West Ham
The curtains are trembling, the boards are creaking and it very much sounds like someone is engaged in a throat-clearing exercise. It can’t be much longer until Leicester fans hear the mournful, inevitable wail of the fat lady calling time on this adventure. Yet to reach the 20 point mark for the season, they are six points behind 18th place Burnley and time is fast running out. When one compares them to other teams who occupied their position in seasons past, it generates an amount of puzzlement.
Yes, the table doesn’t lie but there are some truly dreadful teams above them; have they really been as bad as Villa or Sunderland this season? Well must have been and they’ve obviously been worse but their play has rarely stank the place out like the aforementioned buzz-kills. And when the scorer of one of the finest team goals ever seen, Esteban Cambiasso, is on yr books, it’s natural to have some feelings regarding their plight. However, acts of pity on the battlefield are rarely seen and West Ham will be looking to this match to salvage something from what was an initially promising season. Both teams are on a woeful run of form (West Ham did, however, manage a win in their last match, their first in nine) and it might not make for pleasant viewing. West Ham are the superior team and though Leicester will make a fight of it, the Hammers should have enough to outfox the home team. Some tasty prices for that outcome with Betfred offering 9/4. Happy Easter.
17.30 Chelsea v Stoke City
Believe it or not, taking the last 15 games into account, Chelsea have amassed only 7 points more than Stoke. Hmm, what can it mean? Probably nothing more than Stoke have been playing quite well and Chelsea haven’t been, which you can cut either way and say that Chelsea are struggling or that the best Stoke can do is still worse than what a faltering Chelsea have achieved. Mourinho’s teams have generally always had a fearsome home record but no more.
In their last six home games they have won two and drawn four with surprisingly few goals scored along the way. His habit of keeping faith with largely the same 11 players has seen his team hit a dip in energy levels and with not much in the way of immediate danger from the pursuing team adding some fire to their rears, they are lurching their way to the finish line. While it would be daft to think that they will let their lead slip, it would be ignoring history to say that it will all be plain sailing from here on in.
A slip (or two) is not so much due as unavoidable. Stoke may not be the team to do that but they certainly have enough about them to come away from this match with a draw. If Stoke manager, Mark Hughes, once again decides to go with Arnautovic wide left and Ireland in an attacking midfield role, they could cause trouble for Chelsea right back, Ivanovic who, while a brilliant attacking threat, is attracting some criticism of late for his defensive work. This column has been made look stupid by Chelsea before (no mean feat…) and probably will do again this week as they are rightly favourites but there’s something to be said for considering the price of a draw in this one. Totesport have 5/1 going for that very result.