April 6, 2012
No doubt the readership of this column will be reduced somewhat this week following my advice to put everything you own and more on an Arsenal win at QPR last weekend. Those who followed the advice probably no longer own a computer or even a house, not to mention internet access, so if you know anybody in that position, please do not pass on my name or address.
The Easter schedule begins on Friday night this week, and a busy and possibly decisive few days of football kicks off at the Liberty Stadium (or the Nou Camp, as the tiresome media will have you believe):
1) Swansea v Newcastle: As you can probably tell from the previous sentence, I'm getting rather fed up of hearing twisted statistics about Swansea's pass completion rate being the best in Europe and Leon Britton being some sort of uber-player. Such utter nonsense comes from their tedious yet accurate sideways passing in their own half, which doesn't somehow qualify them for Champions League football no matter how often the sheep and bandwagon-jumpers on our TVs and radios prattle on about it. Two defeats in a row haven't stopped the general masturbatathon, and I doubt whether a good pasting from a very much in-form Newcastle will either.
2) Sunderland v Tottenham: Having put a huge dent in Man.City's title aspirations last weekend, Sunderland look well placed to do the same to Spurs' Champions League hopes. However, Tottenham's mini-slump seems to have been halted with two wins and two draws from their last four matches, and this encounter is probably the most impenetrable of the weekend in terms of trying to predict the winner. I do think that both sides will score, but this is really one to watch and enjoy rather than have a bet on.
3) Bolton v Fulham: Probably the ideal fixture for Bolton to face when they are trying to put daylight between themselves and the bottom three. Pavel Pogrebnyak's early avalanche of goals has come to a sudden halt, and Fulham's two goals against Norwich last weekend were their first for four matches. The more pessimistic Bolton fans will point out that their side's three consecutive League wins have all come against teams below them in the table, and also that they have failed to beat Fulham in their last four attempts at the Reebok. However, three of those four games ended goalless, and I think it's a fair bet that this encounter will end that way too.
4) Chelsea v Wigan: The increase in the quality of Wigan's performances since their tame defeat against Swansea a few weeks ago has been quite remarkable, and indeed, that loss is the only one they have recorded in their last eight matches. They now embark on a run of fixtures that features Man.U and Arsenal following this trip to Stamford Bridge, so their improvement could not have come at a more vital time. It must also be said that Chelsea seem to have warmed to their task in recent weeks as well, so we can expect a more competitive match than has sometimes been the case between these two at Stamford Bridge. Only an injury-time equaliser from Emile Heskey in 2008 has stopped Chelsea from having a 100% home League record against Wigan, but on current form, I certainly wouldn't rule out another stalemate here.
5) Liverpool v Aston Villa: The run can't go on forever, but it is becoming quite tricky to predict when Liverpool will next win a game. Perhaps a home match against a Villa side determined to defy those who thought there were only five clubs in with a chance of relegation will be the ideal time for the Reds to come good. I think so.
6) Norwich v Everton: Three consecutive 2-0 wins for Everton, but they will be hard pressed to record such a scoreline here as none of Norwich's last eight games have seen a margin of more than a single goal, and since the turn of the year, only Chelsea have denied the Canaries at least one goal. This is another tricky match to call, and the only result that I feel I can rule out is a home win.
7) West Brom v Blackburn: One point from four games has brought Baggies fans back down to reality, and this could prove to be a tough fixture against a Blackburn team who find themselves back in the bottom three having had a six point cushion just a couple of weeks ago. This has been a bad-tempered fixture the last couple of times it has been played, including three red cards and eight yellows, and with so much at stake for Rovers, I wouldn't be surprised if the referee was particularly active again this time around. Other notable features of those last two meetings at the Hawthorns were four goals in each match and no defeats for Blackburn, so I think I'll plump for an away win in which both sides score here.
8) Stoke v Wolves: With Arsenal and Man.City still to visit Molineux, Wolves have few realistic chances left of dragging themselves to safety, and this promises to be an ugly, scrappy, unpleasant encounter. Wolves have won just one of their last nine meetings with Stoke in League and Cup, and they may well follow the pattern of misfortune seen by many a relegated club in which they take the lead only to fall short and ultimately surrender the points to their hosts.
9) Man.U.v QPR: I have no idea where that performance came from. Maybe it has taken a couple of months for Mark Hughes's ways to get through to his players, but last weekend's display against Arsenal was from each individual player utterly superior to anything else Rangers have produced this season. They will obviously need a similar performance to have the remotest chance of avoiding defeat here, but Arsenal had won seven League games on the trot before pitching up at Loftus Road, and United have now won seven in a row prior to this encounter, so I wouldn't rule anything out, particularly at the prices on offer.
10) Arsenal v Man.City: On the face of it, this looks a cracker to round off the opening Easter fixtures, but from Arsenal's point of view, they have experienced a worrying run against City recently. The Gunners have only scored in one of their last six meetings with City in all competitions, and have only beaten them once in the last seven. City, however, could find themselves eight points off the pace by the time this game kicks off, and really need to win all of their remaining fixtures to maintain a hope of winning the title. I don't think they will, and a narrow loss here should signal the end for Roberto Mancini, whose tactics have held his team back on too many occasions for him to be given another crack next season.
As nerves start to jangle at the business end of the season, you can surely expect more shock results than usual, but I'm still going to persevere with an accumulator involving Southampton, Brentford, Walsall and Queen's Park, which would return £69.33 to a £10 stake with betfred.com if all won their matches.