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Tottenham v Newcastle
Spurs win at West Brom last Sunday was their first since New Year’s Day, and whilst victory was welcome, the injury to Jermain Defoe, was not. Thankfully Togo were eliminated from the Cup of African Nations, so the returning Emmanuel Adebayor should prevent Spurs from experimenting with a 4-6-0 formation. Whilst Gareth Bale continues to grab the plaudits the win at West Brom gave some a first good look at new signing Lewis Holtby. The German international operates with an intelligence that is infrequent in the English game, and his link-up with Bale could be sensational. For Spurs fans, his likely inclusion in the starting lineup will mean an end to Clint Dempsey’s role in the side.
Newcastle are on a high after two successive wins, and an influx of new faces. Quite rightly, Moussa Sissoko has earned praise for his performance in the comeback against Chelsea. However, it is the return of Yohan Cabaye that is the true source of Newcastle’s redemption. The Frenchman is class, and controls the midfield allowing Newcastle to have more of the ball, and take the strain off a defence buckling under the weight of its work. Newcastle would have had three wins on the trot if Cabaye was fully fit on his return against Reading, and conversely Reading would likely be mired in relegation trouble.
BoM predicts Holtby outshines Cabaye and Spurs win @ 1.76
Chelsea v Wigan
The spectacular comeback defeat that Chelsea suffered at Newcastle means that Benitez’s reign at the Bridge is in terminal decline. Admittedly, we are well aware that this was always likely. Logic dictated that Benitez was brought in to resurrect Fernando Torres’ flailing career. Sadly that hasn’t happened, and the future will have to accept Fernando Torres as a very good striker, rather than the talisman of four years back.
Wigan really needed three points last week, and must start to make their periodic move now. The Latics have tough games against Liverpool and Man City in March, and face Reading before the end of February. A trip to Chelsea hasn’t been the happiest hunting ground for Wigan, with memories of an 8-0 whitewash firmly in mind. This could be a similar story, if they don’t start well.
BoM predicts a rout for Chelsea at 1.49
Norwich v Fulham
Norwich’s ghastly form was arrested somewhat by the performance at QPR, and they look much more assured whenever Bassong is in the backline. Luciano Becchio seems poised to make his first start, as Hughton struggles with finding a system that best suits frontman Grant Holt’s talents. The striker has been made to look more like the lumbering journeyman that people believed he was before last season’s goal surge at the top level. The name Marcus Stewart rings out every time I watch Holt play.
Fulham’s narrow defeat at home to Man Utd wasn’t unexpected, but the Cottagers demonstrated their quality. Sascha Reither offered an outlet every time, and Norwich will need to be well aware of his desire to overlap. The Fulham attack can sometimes become paceless, and the direct running styles of Emanuelson and Reither as well as former Liverpool defender John Arne-Riise can help open up Norwich.
BoM predicts that Norwich halt their downturn in form @ 2.48
Stoke v Reading
The post-Christmas defensive meltdown that Stoke have suffered is almost beyond comprehension. It’s now six games at the Britannia without a clean sheet, and last time out they were easily dispatched by a rampant Chelsea side. The performance last time out, at Arsenal, wasn’t so desperate and Stoke looked far more solid than they had done previously. Stoke’s defensive lapses have coincided with an inability to find the net with any regularity. Against Reading, they will get chances, and must take them.
We said last week about how Reading should stick with their winning formula, and not be tempted to start Adam LeFondre. The Premier League player of the month for January was on the pitch just 85 minutes in grabbing his five goals, and whilst he ubiquitously scores when he wants he genuinely doesn’t do a lot else, Reading can’t keep the ball high enough up the pitch, the defence and midfield have to sit deeper, and they’re under constant pressure. If LeFondre starts, Reading will lose, it’s a very simple equation. That said, perhaps the more unsung heroes of Reading’s revival are Jimmy Kebe and Hope Akpan. Kebe has now scored three goals in his last five games, whilst Akpan has three assists despite starting just once. The ex-Crawley midfielder has transferred his skills and seems more than capable at the highest level.
BoM predicts that Stoke keep a clean sheet and halt the Reading revival @ 1.95
Sunderland v Arsenal
There is a simple rule to follow with Sunderland; they will beat those teams around them. Against the bigger sides they tend to struggle, and only Man City can attest to Sunderland possessing resolve against the elite. That said, with two strikers in tandem, the quintessentially British pairing of Danny Graham and Steven Fletcher is as robust a challenge as Arsenal’s centre-halves are likely to face. Arming the supply will be Johnson and Sessegnon, and provided these two can see enough of the ball, Sunderland will cause Arsenal some relative discomfort.
However, that discomfort is insignificant when analysed alongside the prospect of Jack Colback having to deal with a rampant Theo Walcott. This is no sleight on Colback, who is an excellent midfielder, but a left back, he is not. Walcott may have suffered an injury on international duty, which would prevent Colback becoming such a sacrificial lamb. After his display against Brazil, Jack Wilshere, generally heralded as the saviour of English football, will be under more intense scrutiny.
BoM predicts a rather sterile draw @ 3.59
Swansea v QPR
It’s just two weeks before arguably Swansea’s biggest game in their history. The Jacks face a Bradford City side from the bottom tier, for a place in Europe. Such ascension for either side will be quite remarkable, and Swansea could be forgiven for having one eye on the final. However, Swansea’s defeat to arsenal in the cup allows a two week respite period, so after the game on Saturday Michu, DeGuzman and co are likely to be whisked away to sunnier climes to focus on what lies ahead.
What lies before though, is a side so desperate for a win that they paid £12.5m and £100,000 per week for a decent centre half. They also paid £8m and £80,000 per week for a striker who last week pulled his groin. QPR can’t buy a goal at the minute, and Remy’s injury is unfortunate. It could well be that they turn to the attacking prowess of Samba from set pieces in order to find the net. Redknapp has definitely improved QPR’s solidity. However, the deployment of two central midfielders to screen the back four has prevented QPR from exerting any real attacking pressure.
BoM predicts that one goal should win it and QPR at 4.9 could win somebody the league.
Southampton v Man City
Life for Mauricio Pochettino couldn’t have started with more difficulty. After the visit of tricky Everton, the Argentine deserved more than the one point trips to Man Utd and Wigan plundered. Despite the outcry over Adkins dismissal, the appointment of Pochettino looks quite savvy from Swiss financier Nicola Cortese. Jay Rodriguez seems to be featuring more prominently, and the problem goalkeeping spot seems to have been solved.
City’s problems keep piling up. They now trail rivals United by nine points, and though foolish to write the champions off, such a lead seems impregnable. Rumours continue to bubble that Mancini is on his way, and just yesterday the odds on him being the next manager to leave his post were as low as 2/1. The positives for City are that Yaya Toure is back from the African Cup of Nations and Samir Nasri is nearing a return to full fitness.
BoM predicts that Man City put all troubles behind them with a rousing performance @ 1.86