Saturday 11th April
15.00 Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa
There’s been plenty of noise in the press leading up to this fixture, mainly, it must be said, by ex-Spurs manager and current Villa incumbent, Tim Sherwood. Sherwood, with some justification, can point to a relatively successful 6 months with Spurs last season before the chairman decided to let him go all the same and pursue current manager, Pochettino, so it’s fair to say that there’s a bit of the personal to this match.
Sherwood is big on Passion (presumably he capitalizes) and is given to rather emotional expressions of joy/frustration on the sidelines. He has an unfortunate penchant for wearing an otherwise internal muscle on his sleeve; aside from being a totally unsuitable surface for the heart, ironically his near-iconic clothing preference, the gilet, is a garment which eschews sleeves. His passion > tactics schtick has earned Villa their place in the semi-final of the F.A. Cup against Liverpool but the League is still a place of choppy waters. Given that just seven neighbourly points separate the bottom six, Villa are not safe yet.
Spurs played out a 0-0 draw versus Burnley last week in a match that has been purportedly been ear-marked as a breakthrough treatment in the battle against insomnia. Some are speculating that this high-pressing Spurs team may have run out of steam but, separated by just goal difference with Liverpool in 5th and seeing Manchester City seemingly sink like a stone (more below), they still have a shot of making the top four. This prize alone should see them shake the slumber away and win out over a game but limited Villa. Bet365 and just about everyone else is offering 8/13 for that outcome.
Sunday 12th April
13.30 QPR v Chelsea
Chelsea Watch: Week 4 and the quest for dropped points. This column seems to be developing an unhealthy fixation with regard to Chelsea dropping unlikely points. Is it all possible that QPR will manage to effect such an outcome this weekend? Unlikely, one would venture and with good reason, too, given their respective league positions. Do QPR have enough about them to seriously worry Chelsea? Short answer is, they might. Two matches ago they put four goals past their hosts, West Bromwich Albion, in a handy rout and away at Villa midweek, they scored three in a high-scoring draw. This is a team that wants to attack their way out of trouble and like all in the bottom six of the table, they are fighting for their Premiership lives.
It hardly needs noting that Chelsea have slowed up a little on their march to the crown but are stilling wining matches and doing all they need to keep the pursuing pack at a safe distance. Issues with energy levels notwithstanding, Mourinho has some concerns with key players going into this. Costa is out injured (although Remy has proven more than able when given the chance) and both Matic and Fabregas are just one booking away from a two-match suspension having collected 9 yellow cards each this season. This may well affect their performance in the middle of the field and is an area QPR will surely look to exploit.
As always, Chelsea are rightly favourites but damn it, they have to drop points at some stage. Betfair are offering 4/1 for the draw.
16.00 Manchester United v Manchester City
If this derby had taken place a couple of months ago, this preview would have been very different. City weren’t playing well at the time but could still entertain notions of a push for the title. United were far from convincing in their performances but were still managing to claim favourable results. Hypothetically, however, City would have been favourites to prevail.
The current climate is markedly different, though. United have hit a wonderful vein of form in terms of results and performances. The question is has Van Gaal gotten lucky and hit upon a winning formula as a result of injuries and suspensions or are we seeing the team finally absorb the Dutch maestro’s lessons?
At this stage of the season, the answer (if it exists) hardly matters. Arguably, United haven’t been this impressive in a couple of years. City, on the other hand, have been sleepwalking their way toward irrelevancy, something one has not traditionally expected of defending champions. Therein lies the problem; this City team are not ‘traditional’ insofar as they are an expensively assembled team of mature players (with little resale value) who seem to lack the will to defend English club football’s highest award. Sadly, despite having some wonderful players, they appear to fit the profile of the modern mercenary football, whose appetite for wealth is in inverse proportion to their stomach for a fight. United to win is 17/10 from Betvictor