Saturday 25th October
Liverpool v Hull 15.00
This is a very, very interesting tie. Fresh off the back of a moral-shattering defeat to Real Madrid during their Champions League encounter during the week, Liverpool look to be in serious trouble. Their defence is hilariously shambolic and they are playing with none of the verve and attacking purpose of last season. Confidence seems to be draining from the team and the supporters have a ready-made scapegoat in the unfairly maligned Mario Balotelli. They were spoiled with a huge goal return last season and now, sans Suarez and Sturridge (injured), Balotelli is the focal point for much of their misplaced rage and despondency.
Whatever way you dice it up, Liverpool are very vulnerable at the moment. Hull, on the other hand, are motoring along quite nicely. They could be considered unlucky to only get the draw in their last match away to Arsenal, a 91st minute goal saving the Gunners’ blushes. This column backed a Hull result last week (well, bets were hedged with both the draw and win mentioned) and will do the same this week. Liverpool really are that wobbly. You can get 19/5 from Stanjames for the draw and Betvictor amongst others are offering 7/1 for the Hull win. The choice is yours.
Southampton v Stoke 15.00
This match is included due to the odds being offered for a Stoke win. Some context first: Southampton are sitting pretty in 3rd, they are fresh from an 8-0 battering of Sunderland, they have the best defence in the league, are playing at home and their coach Ronald Koeman has just won the Manager of the Month award. In brief, the Saints have some wind in their sails. However, Stoke had a good win against Swansea last week and are level on points with Spurs. Not great, not terrible. However, the bit that grabs one’s attention is the very generous 11/2 on offer from Betvictor for the Stoke win. After all, it’s not like the Saints are hosting QPR. This may not be the most likely result but it must be far shorter than the odds highlighted here.
Sunday 26th October
Manchester United v Chelsea 16.00
This is arguably the fixture of the weekend. Some country in the Amazon is missing a chunk of its forest due to the reams of rambles written about United so far this season. What we can say for sure about them at the moment is that it’s very hard to know what to say about them at the moment. Yes, they have some wonderful attacking players, the envy of most teams but they have a defence that might only be the envy of Liverpool. In short, they have been entertaining if nothing else. Chelsea, on the other hand, have taken off like a bullet and have hardly been troubled by anyone so far. They have won eight and drawn two of their last 10 matches in all competitions.
Unfortunately, there is a sizeable fly in the ointment in the guise of Diego Costa. This column has been fooled more than once by the injury claims from Chelsea regarding his legs but this one seems genuine. Recent accounts suggest he’s been hospitalized as a result of a virus. If that turns out to be true, then Chelsea may have an issue as Loic Remy pulled up during the mid-week match against Maribor leaving Didier Drogba as the sole striker. This may suit Chelsea, however.
Mourinho is very much risk-averse in his approach to football and may (yet again) decide that a safe draw is better than a risky win and going into the match without two of his three strikers gives him all the excuse he needs to play it safe. The draw is being offered at 2/1 by Betfred amongst others.