The Premier League Forecast

Can Chelsea upset title holders Manchester United at Old Trafford? Can Wigan earn a valuable point or three at West Brom? Can Aston Villa put more space between themselves and relegation? Today on the blog Matt Wallace offers five tactical pointers to this weekend's round of Premier League football.

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Manchester United vs Chelsea

An interesting game simply because one team still has it all to play for, and the other is mentally on the beach. United showed a certain rustiness in the first half hour against Arsenal, almost as if they’d been partying all week, but you struggle to imagine Ferguson will let that happen for the second week in a row.

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Ultimately, though, the onus in this match is all on Chelsea as they battle for a Champions League spot. A recent trend in Chelsea’s play has been the development of play down the right hand flank, a testament to the growing influence of Eden Hazard. The player, despite being listed on the PFA shortlist, has had a bit of an up and down season at times but has been in great form in recent weeks, and his partnership down the right hand side with Cesar Azpilicueta has shown great attacking promise.

You can see above how it was the overwhelming side favoured in the game against West Ham a couple of weeks ago, and with Evra often getting caught out of position, look to Chelsea to focus on this area on Sunday.

The Odds

The graphs below display the implied probability of average bookmaker odds.

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Liverpool vs Everton

There’s an argument to be made that, without Suarez, Liverpool play with more freedom. Removed of the responsibility to always play through their standout striker, they mix the ball about a bit more, get Sturridge involved more and have a bit more versatility. It certainly seemed that way when they put Newcastle to the sword last weekend.

Liverpool

Above you’ve got the attacking chalkboards of Sturridge and Coutinho, two players who dominated last weekend. Their attacking thrust, through the centre of the pitch, is likely to be replicated against Everton who often struggle with protecting their back four.

At home, on the back of a good result, with a few looking to prove a point, and with the aim of finishing above Everton... there’s only going to be one result. Suarez or not, Liverpool are getting the win, and given Everton’s recent goalscoring difficulties – they have 1 in the last 3 games – a cleansheet victory for Liverpool could well be on the cards.

The Odds

The graphs below display the implied probability of average bookmaker odds.

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Norwich vs Aston Villa

A key game at the bottom of the table this weekend sees Norwich host former manager Paul Lambert and his struggling Villa side. Both teams are desperate for points, and they’ve been trending in different directions. Norwich, seemingly safe for most of the season, have drifted into trouble after winning only 2 games since Christmas. Villa on the other hand have struggled all season, but a recent run of good form has seen them put daylight between themselves and Wigan.

One of the key reasons behind this is Lambert’s decision, much like he did with Norwich last season, to pretty much focus solely on goals. His inexperienced side are going to let in goals, so his logic is to just score more. Attack is the best form of defence. And there are few better in the league at doing that this season than Christian Benteke, and he comes fresh off a hat-trick vs Sunderland.

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What makes this interesting, though, is Norwich’s strong home form and solid defence. Despite struggling, the Canaries have 9 clean sheets this season, and have only lost to three sides at home: Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool. So might they look to close this game down? Perhaps not. Both central defenders, Bassong and Turner, are struggling with injuries and without them they look leaky.

Add in the occasion, the relegation battle, and the reunion with Lambert and you’ve got a restless crowd eager to stick the boot in. They will be demanding attacking football from the start, and if Villa get the opening goal, Hughton will have no choice but to press forward. This game hinges on Norwich’s defensive frailties, especially if they are missing one or both centrebacks. With this in mind, it's certainly a match in which we could witness plenty of scoring opportunities.

The Odds

The graphs below display the implied probability of average bookmaker odds.

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West Ham vs Newcastle

Roy Hodgson has eyes at this game, and for good reason – Andy Carroll is back in form. The West Ham striker has 4 in his last 5 games, and has supplemented this with generally excellent play, holding up the ball well, finding teammates and making a nuisance of himself in the box.

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Against Man Utd, above, he was all over the place. Whether it was winning the ball in midfield, finding a teammate, or barrelling into David De Gea, he was playing with the sort of drive that saw him earn that ludicrously priced move to Liverpool in the first place.

And now he’s playing with a smile on his face again, he comes up against his old club, at their lowest ebb. Newcastle will want anything but to face a vengeful Geordie with a point to prove. His strength in the box, desire to win the ball and finishing prowess will make him the biggest threat in a game Newcastle simply have to recover in. With England spies watching, I suspect he’ll rise to the occasion, and find himself on the scoresheet.

The Odds

The graphs below display the implied probability of average bookmaker odds.

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West Brom vs Wigan

Another game in which it’s all about one side – this time, Wigan. West Brom’s season finished weeks ago, but to their credit they’ve carried on putting in good performances and getting results, including last week’s great showing at Southampton. This week it’s Wigan who face the Baggies and they need all the help they can get – but I’m not convinced it’s happening.

”WestBrom"

Despite Wigan’s reputation as end of season specialists, they’re beginning to look beyond hope. The main problem is they can’t stop conceding, especially soft goals, and they’re coming up against a side with one of the brightest young strikers in Romelu Lukaku. While the season may be over for WBA, it isn’t for Lukaku, who is desperate to impress and force a first team spot for Chelsea next year, and he’s continuing to put in the work.

He was outstanding against Southampton, constantly putting the backline under pressure and getting shots on target. Wigan will struggle to deal with his presence on Saturday, the Belgian should find plenty of opportunities to get on the scoresheet.

The Odds

The graphs below display the implied probability of average bookmaker odds.

”WestBromWiganOdds"

 

 

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To read more of Matt's work, visit his blog Holtamania.com

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