Our resident football tipster, Jonathan Turner of bettinglive.com, gives his expert opinion on the weekend’s Premier League action…
It may not be the most glamorous game of the weekend but Norwich v Crystal Palace provides our banker bet, with under 2.5 goals at 4/5 the confident call.
There was some 10/11 and 5/6 around earlier in the week and it’s no surprise that’s been hoovered up as this looks set to be a tense, attritional battle between two sides short on goals and desperately struggling at the wrong end of the table as a result.
Starting with the Canaries and the pressure is mounting on boss Chris Hughton as plenty of transfer activity in the summer has so far failed to generate improved results, with just 11 points garnered from their opening 12 fixtures.
Their cause hasn’t been helped by an injury to striker and record signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel who again sits out this weekend and he’s now been joined in the treatment room by midfield pair Anthony Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass.
All three have got on the scoresheet this season yet Norwich have managed just 10 goals and they now face the team with the lowest tally in the top flight, the Eagles having mustered only seven.
Normally when going low on the goals there would be a worry about both sides’ leaky defences but Norwich – despite hammerings against the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal – have only conceded three goals in total in five games against bottom-half opposition while Palace have suddenly found some much-needed steel at the back.
They’ve kept their first two clean sheets of the campaign in the last two and now have Tony Pulis in the dugout, a manager renowned for building from the back at Stoke.
Norwich are usually pretty decent on their own patch but Palace ended Hull’s unbeaten home record last weekend and we wouldn’t put it past them producing another smash-and-grab raid at Carrow Road on Saturday.
And if Norwich do fail to take maximum points in this then the 10/1 currently chalked up about Chris Hughton being the next Premier League manager to part company with their club could soon start to look massive.
This market has been completely skewed by a gamble on Tottenham’s Andre Villas-Boas which appears to have spiralled out of control.
AVB was a 33/1 chance a week ago but is now as short as evens and while Spurs’ 6-0 mauling at Manchester City was far from ideal he surely deserves more time given that he’s had to rebuild his side following Gareth Bale’s departure and they are only four points off second spot.
It all means that Fulham boss Martin Jol, who should surely be favourite given their struggles, is out to 2/1 while Hughton has been eased to a double-figure price.
Norwich had their AGM this week and the open Q&A session afterwards was reported to be a far from comfortable ride for Hughton.
They play all of the bottom three between now and Boxing Day and while that’s an opportunity to try and get back on track, those relegation six-pointers also put them very much in the spotlight and if things don’t go their way then the pressure will quickly be cranked up.
But back to the here and now and we’re keen to double up wins for Aston Villa and leaders Arsenal on Saturday afternoon at just under 9/4 (Bet365, Coral and William Hill).
The Villans, fresh from fighting back from 2-0 down to grab a share of the spoils in Monday night’s Midlands derby at West Brom, welcome bottom club Sunderland to Villa Park and it’s hard to fathom out why they are on offer at as big as evens.
Paul Lambert’s side have had a desperately tough set of opening fixtures and while only mid-table it’s worth pointing out that they are actually eight points better off compared to the same matches in the 2012/13 campaign. That’s an improvement of 0.75 points per game and only Southampton have progressed more.
Villa have also had to do without one, two or all three of their biggest goal threats in Christian Benteke, Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann for chunks of the season but they are all fit again now. And remember that trio combined for five of the six goals as Villa thrashed Sunderland 6-1 in this fixture in April as both sides battled against the drop.
And while Sunderland have won two massive games under new boss Gus Poyet – with victories over Newcastle and Manchester City – their away form shows no signs of picking up as they’ve lost five on the bounce and not even managed a goal on their travels since August. Multiple red cards haven’t helped and, though they should be close to full strength on Saturday, that indiscipline is an added concern.
So why then are Villa an even money chance? A poor home record might go some way to explaining it but if we look more closely a very different picture emerges as all four of their defeats at Villa Park came against sides from the top 10. Against clubs in the wrong half of the table – and Sunderland prop it up – they are actually unbeaten this season.
We also like the chances of pacesetters Arsenal collecting another three points to extend their fine start to the season. On the face of it they’ve got it all to do away to a Cardiff side who have already beaten Manchester City on home turf and who last weekend twice came back to draw 2-2 with Manchester United.
However those results owed much to the shortcomings of the Manchester duo away from home. City have lost four out of six and were without skipper Vincent Kompany at the heart of their defence while United have long been vulnerable on their travels and last Sunday was no exception.
Cardiff could find it altogether more difficult against an Arsenal side which is getting better and better – they’ve been superb going forward all season but have now improved markedly at the back as evidenced by five clean sheets in the last six in all competitions.
They are also set to welcome Theo Walcott back after two run outs from the bench and he adds both pace and natural width which will make them even more of a threat on the pristine surface at the Cardiff City Stadium.
One other point to bear in mind for this game is that just three of Cardiff’s 11 goals this season have come in the first half which means they’ve tended to fall behind and you simply don’t want to be chasing the game against the Gunners as no team in the country is more dangerous on the counterattack.
Moving to Sunday’s action and while there are some fascinating match-ups, there’s limited appeal from a betting point of view.
Given the open nature of this Premier League season it would be no surprise to see Spurs bounce back from last Sunday’s hiding at Manchester City by taking something from their home clash with the red half of Manchester.
However history is very much against them as they’ve not won any of the last 12 matches against United at White Hart Lane – and last season’s 3-2 success at Old Trafford was their first there since 1989.
We’re therefore going to sit that one out – as well as the other three games – and leave the focus instead on the more appealing betting opportunities on Saturday.
Banker – under 2.5 goals in Norwich v Crystal Palace at 4/5 (Bet Victor, Boylesports and Sky Bet).
Double – Aston Villa to beat Sunderland (evens) and Arsenal to win at Cardiff (8/13), double pays 2.23/1 (Bet365, Coral and William Hill).
Value – Chris Hughton to be next Premier League manager to part company with his club at 10/1 (Coral, Stan James, Sky Bet and William Hill).
Get a full break down of all the Premier League games this weekend at bettinglive.com