Manchester United v Southampton (Saturday, 12:30) – Ralf is not wrecking it
It may not be on trend to suggest such a thing, but Manchester United are improving under Ralf Rangnick. Granted, they remain very much a team of two halves, incapable of sustaining an invigorating performance beyond 45 minutes, but the stat-men had David De Gea down as Europe’s busiest keeper in January whereas in their last two fixtures Middlesbrough and Burnley have been restricted to just three shots on target apiece.
At the other end meanwhile, Ronnie and co racked up an astonishing 52 attempts and of course it matters that the eventual outcomes were disappointing but the sensible take-away is that such wastefulness cannot continue and sooner or later, a team is going to get a hiding.
Will that be the Saints, buoyed by a terrific comeback at Spurs midweek? More likely they will punch back which leaves us with the exciting prospect of plenty of goals at Old Trafford to kick off the weekend’s action.
Over 3.5 goals is a stand-out 2.8
Brentford v Crystal Palace (Saturday, 15:00) – Early goals in the capital
Palace put in a real Jekyll and Hyde performance at Carrow Road on Wednesday evening, not for the first time this season looking short of ideas in the first period before improving considerably after the break. All told, Patrick Vieira’s side have conceded 20 times in the first half in 2021/22, a figure only matched by one other team.
As plot-twists go it’s not exactly Keyser Soze walking off with a limp to reveal that team is Brentford and with Ivan Toney returning – a striker who has notched 23.1% of his side’s league goals this term – and Wilfried Zaha boasting two in three for the Eagles we should hopefully be treated to more goalmouth drama than their tepid encounter back in August served up.
Back both teams to score in first half @ 5.0
Everton v Leeds (Saturday, 15:00) – Naughty but nice to watch
The Toffees are stuck in their worst league form for more than a quarter of a century, a run so consistently bad that a screenshot of their results dating back to September was shared around social media this week to widespread amusement. For the record, they’ve won only once in 15.
Leeds are also familiar with struggle this season but seem to be turning their situation around, picking up seven points in their last four games, a decent return when factoring in their injury crisis.
There is a lot to consider for this one, namely it being Frank Lampard’s first league game at Goodison and likely full debuts for Donny van de Beek and Dele Alli. But for value it’s hard to look past the probability of a high card count.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men are the bad boys of the Premier League, accumulating a positively naughty 60 yellows, while Everton are hardly angelic.
In what should be a ferocious relegation scrap over 4.5 cards is tempting @ 2.4
Watford v Brighton (Saturday, 15:00) – Honours even, yet again
The Seagulls have drawn more games than any other team across Europe’s big five leagues in 2021/22, with a remarkable 54% of their games ending honours even.
It’s perfectly possible therefore to anticipate Graham Potter’s gameplan as he takes his ninth-place side to Hertfordshire. Brighton will be hard to break down, continuing a mandate that has led to only one defeat on their travels this term.
Such a pragmatic approach from the visitors will suit the Hornet’s new, but old boss Roy Hodgson just fine given Watford’s predicament and atrocious home form. The relegation battlers have failed to keep a clean sheet in 16 games now at Vicarage Road while five home losses on the bounce is their third worst run in that regard since joining the Football League in 1958.
A draw would be very welcomed by Roy. For Graham, it’s just another day at the office.
Tipping a score-draw is almost a no-brainer @ 4.5
Norwich v Man City (Saturday, 17:30) – No Silva lining for Norwich
It’s tempting to believe the Canaries might give Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering collective a scare here, full of confidence as they are from two wins and a draw. Their gaining of seven points in recent weeks has made Norwich’s distant dream of survival semi-viable, for now at least.
In truth however, this is no reversal of fortune but rather a freakish occurrence from Dean Smith’s men whose six goals against Everton, Watford and Crystal Palace derived from six shots on target. Such accuracy is simply not sustainable.
So, we turn to the league leaders and wonder by what margin they will win by, and from this we turn to Bernardo Silva as a possible executioner-in-chief? Only three players have scored four match-winners in 2021/22, the Portuguese schemer being one and he is in fine company with Ronaldo and Salah the others.
He has also scored five of his seven this season on his travels.
Take a chance on Bernardo Silva to be last goalscorer @ 6.5
Burnley v Liverpool (Sunday, 14:00) – Not so tough at Turf Moor
The Clarets have won just one home league game since January 2021, a sobering stat that seriously undermines Turf Moor’s hard-earned and long-held reputation as a tough and testing place to visit.
Last season, the Reds comfortably ran out 3-0 winners in this fixture and there is little reason to think a similar scenario won’t play out again, even if the threat posed by Burnley’s mountainlike new signing Wout Weghurst intrigues.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have only failed to score once in their last 33 Premier League games with eight in their last three testament to how well they adjusted without Sadio Mane and Mo Salah. The Egyptian goal-king returns here but be wary of backing him too strongly. His one in eight against Burnley is his worst return against any top-flight side.
The title challengers like to make their mark early, scoring eight of their last 25 goals inside 25 minutes. That intrigues more than Weghurst.
Liverpool to be in front at 30 minutes is a good shout @ 2.25
Newcastle v Aston Villa (Sunday, 14:00) – A new dawn for all concerned
Only four players across the continent have completed 30+ tackles, dribbles and chances created from open play in 2021/22. One of them could make his full debut at St James Park this weekend in front of a public waiting to adore him.
Bruno Guimarães’ introduction to the Premier League is an exciting proposition even to neutrals and then lob in the explosive Saint-Maximin and a revived Philippe Coutinho to the fray and this has all the makings of a very watchable game of football.
Both teams are on the up and though each still reside in the lower half of the table for shots taken this term that is largely a reflection on their struggles prior to Howe, Gerrard and respective investment.
It is Newcastle who will more consistently be on the offensive, a reinvigorated side who have averaged 15 shots in their last four contests.
The Magpies are evens to reach or better 15 shots again
Tottenham v Wolves (Sunday, 14:00) – No drama in North London
It’s tempting to go with late drama in North London, given Tottenham’s recent shenanigans, snatching a 96th minute winner at Watford then cutting it fine against Morecombe in the cup before incredibly winning at the King Power, when a goal down four minutes into added-on time.
On Wednesday, Southampton gave Antonio Conte’s side a taste of their own medicine, striking twice in quick succession in the closing stages.
Only then it’s remembered that this is Wolves, and Wolves don’t do drama, late or otherwise.
Only two of their last 11 league meetings have produced more than a single goal for either side with Bruno Lage implementing a puritanical philosophy that has seen his team concede fewer than Liverpool this term but be outscored by Watford. If you’re looking for entertainment and twists and turns, head elsewhere. They are the salad on your Friday night kebab.
A tight 1-0 home win is fancied here with Son Heung-min the likeliest difference-maker. The Korean forward has scored 78% of his haul this season at home and has been directly involved in seven goals in his last seven outings.
Son to assist offers up a generous 3.6
Leicester v West Ham (Sunday, 16:30) – The Foxes ill-fortune to continue
Leicester’s injury woes have been well documented and perhaps those drafted in have been afforded some leeway in terms of criticism due to the circumstances. That ends now.
The miserable mob who lost at Anfield midweek cheaply gave away possession far too often and the less said about the Foxes’ embarrassing drubbing at Forest four days earlier, the better. It’s telling that Brendan Rodgers dropped defender Jannik Vestergaard for their trip to Merseyside, in favour of two reimagined midfielders at the back. He’s clearly had enough.
Leicester therefore go to West Ham with a point to prove. Unfortunately, it instinctively feels like they’re in too much of a mess right now to prove it.
Combined, Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio have scored 15 and assisted 15 in the Premier League and staying with that number, the Hammers have taken the lead on 15 occasions this season, losing only once.
West Ham to lead at half-time and FT is 3.75