Saturday 18th April
15.00 Leicester v Swansea
A couple of weeks ago, this column was wondering out loud whether or not the fat lady was singing for Leicester such was their precarious position, hovering as they were seven points below 18th place Burnley. They are still bottom but after two straight wins find themselves in a much tighter relegation battle with only four points between themselves and 16th place Sunderland.
Last weekend, they outscored a defensively ragged West Brom 2-3 away from home and beat another woebegone team, West Ham, the week before. If this run is enough to secure their Premier League survival, it’s been well timed.
Swansea, however, are a different kettle of fish. They have already matched their previous best points total for a season and are sitting pretty in 8th position, neither troubling or being troubled by those above and below them. Given their safe position, is there a danger of them coming into this match with a lackadaisical attitude? Not bloody likely, is the probably the best answer.
Swansea manager, Gary Monk, is one of the best shouts for the manager of the year awards. No-one (including this column) gave him much of a shout at the start of the year given the loss of some players and more obviously his novice status as a coach. He has, however, brought about notable tactical changes to the team. Obsession with possession is not as obvious this season. They are still very comfortable with the ball at their feet but are happier when out of possession than they were previously and arguably use it more effectively when they have it.
Leicester will not find the Swansea players to be as at-sea as their previous opponents and they will do well to break them down. On the flip side, Swansea may be without lead striker, Gomis, and having been shorn of the services of Bony in January, goals might be an issue for the Swans. Still ‘n’ all, the price for a Swansea win seems decent so might be worth a punt. Boylesports are offering 13/5 for that result.
17.30 Chelsea v Manchester United
This match looks a whole lot more exciting now than it would have done a couple of months ago. The hysterically-minded are beginning to dream out loud about the outcome of the League if Utd were to win this match. Here’s what will happen – Chelsea will still win the League. Okay, that statement might come across as overly cocksure and, of course, nothing is decided outright just yet in terms of who takes the crown but if there’s a team and there’s a manager who know how to use their points advantage to close out the season, it’s Chelsea and Mourinho. It’s not impossible but it is improbable
Regular readers will know that this column has gone on a bit of weird Chelsea Watch in the last few weeks in the knowledge expectation of them dropping some points. Exactly the opposite has happened. Of course. They’ve won three from their last three but not even the most one-eyed of Chelsea supporters would argue that they didn’t enjoy a fair whack of luck, courtesy of a goal-keeping error from the respective ‘keepers of each of the teams. They are still without Costa, they may be without Remy and, Hazard and Willian apart, they look like they’re running on empty. The question is whether or not they have the requisite energy to repel a rampant Utd.
After their recent run of excellent form, the Utd players will be licking their lips at thought of beating the Champions elect at their home ground. They destroyed their Manchester rivals last week with a display of energetic purpose and crisp confidence, two virtues that have been largely lacking in recent years. The rejuvenated Young and Fellaini tore City right back, Zabaletta, apart and, given how dicey Ivanovic has been in the same position for Chelsea, expect a lot of action down that side. By chance or design, Van Gaal has finally tuned the team to near perfect pitch and it would take a brave man to bet against them here, especially given the generous price on offer from Betvictor of 31/10 for a Utd win.
Sunday 19th April
13.30 Manchester City v West Ham
Here’s one for you – guess which of these two teams has lost the most matches in their last eight games. If you guessed City, you’d be right. That’s not to say that West Ham have been in sparkling form. On the contrary, both teams have been largely awful in the last couple of months, putting in the type of performances that makes one question the point of watching football at all. How on earth can a team with world talents like Aguero and Silva be plummeting down the table without hardly so much as a whimper?
How can a West Ham team that were so effective in their attacking in the first half of the season that they made Stewart Downing look like top class 10 morph into shapeless mass of misery? There are some answers but really, who bloody well cares at this stage?
The only reason for creating any comment on this match is due to the massive odds for the West Ham win. As always, the bookies are generally right with their prices and so it seems pointless to write about what will probably be a poor match with a clear outcome. The question that you have to ask yrself is whether or not City have any stomach left for a fight. If there’s one thing Big Sam can do, it’s to get his side to play physically. Given that their technical flair seems to be gone, this might be all they have left.
If they can get in the faces of the moribund City midfield and close down the space out wide, they have every chance of getting something from this match. The chink in that armour comes in the shape of Silva and Aguero, two players so good that they don’t massive amounts of chances to punish the opposition but they still need some service. If West Ham can break the game up into a scrappy affair, the City players, who have little to play for (even professional pride seems to have been lacking recently), may not be willing to roll their sleeves up and engage. Look, it’s a long shot (as evidenced by the price) but given City’s current travails of spirit, a West Ham win isn’t as daft as the odds suggest. Betvictor is offering 15/1 for what would be an unlikely but hardly shocking away win.