The Premier League returns this weekend and there are a number of sensational storylines that are tantalizingly waiting to be written.
Before it all kicks off, on and away from the pitch, our football odds expert Adrian Clarke picks out three contests you won’t want to miss…
Manchester United v Chelsea (Sun 25/02, 14:05pm)
Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte can’t stand one another. We get that. And yes, it is always fun to see how low they can go in their juvenile war of barbed words.
But this colossal encounter shouldn’t be overshadowed by the antics of these two grumpy old men.
What’s far more interesting about this Sunday’s Old Trafford clash, to me anyway, is seeing who has the better team as we approach this campaign’s final furlong.
It’s easy to be torn.
Both have flaws, both have wonderful players, both have excellent (if miserable) tacticians at the helm, and as we’ve seen on numerous occasions how outstanding they can be when they bring their A-game.
I thought the Conte’s men played well away to Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal, but the stats tell us that Chelsea, for all their undoubted quality, are up against it here.
No away side has won this fixture in the last ten meetings and only three of 13 visiting teams have found the net at the Theatre of Dreams this term, with Manchester United largely very comfortable on home soil.
When you recall the way Chelsea crashed and burned against the likes of Watford, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and West Ham, my sense is that United are the safer bet to follow.
Backing the Blues at 27/10 could be a chancy move.
I believe Mourinho will set his team up to counter-attack.
It’s a ploy that paid off for them against Huddersfield in the FA Cup, and it seemed to bring the best out of Romelu Lukaku, who is deadly with open grass to run into.
Drawing Chelsea onto them, with a view to releasing Lukaku in behind a sometimes-sluggish Blues rearguard, is a tactic that may bear fruit.
I would see Chelsea scoring once. Eden Hazard is 13/5 to strike, and Olivier Giroud, who scored away to United last season, is a 49/20 chance that may appeal too.
But I am drawn towards a home win this Sunday.
I like the look of 3-1 to Manchester United (15/1) but my pre-match tip is to back Lukaku to score in a home victory. That gamble is on offer at 16/5.
The Belgian has a reputation for blowing it against the big boys, but on this occasion, I feel he’s ripe to ram the critics’ words past Thibaut Courtois, and straight into the back of the net.
This could be a sweet afternoon for United’s striker and boss.
Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur (25/02, 12:00pm)
Wilfried Zaha’s injured knee has knocked Crystal Palace’s survival hopes. The Eagles haven’t won a Premier League match without their inspirational winger since September 2016, so his return can’t come soon enough.
Are Roy Hodgson’s men good enough to cope with Spurs in his absence?
Actually, I think they can still make this contest competitive; not least because Palace have lost just one home match all season to sides currently sat above them in the table.
Selhurst Park is not an easy away ground for the big boys to visit, which points me towards a possible draw at 33/10.
Strangely this fixture (home and away) has a history of being tight with a capital ‘T’.
Five of the last six Palace v Tottenham encounters have ended 1-0, with Mauricio Pochettino’s gifted team winning the last three by that scoreline.
Odds on Under 1.5 goals come out at 17/5 with Grosvenor Sport.
Even though they laboured at Rochdale in the FA Cup, I just don’t see Spurs getting beaten here.
Unbeaten against teams placed 9th or below they have been ruthless flat track bullies this term.
I’ll be plumping for another 0-1 success for the Lilywhites, which is priced up at 13/2.
If you think Harry Kane scores the only goal, those odds stretch to a juicy 17/1. Tempting.
West Bromwich Albion v Huddersfield Town (24/02, 15:00pm)
Losing this relegation six-pointer is not an option for the Baggies.
Their perilous position at the foot of the table, coupled with the antics of their now infamous ‘Cab 4’ make defeat unthinkable for a beleaguered Alan Pardew.
While I understand that minds will be mega-focused in the West Brom dressing room, I still couldn’t entertain a price of 10/11 on the home win.
This is a team that’s won just one Premier League match since August. So for me, the odds are too short.
I also feel Huddersfield Town, who have fewer talented individuals but a superior team ethic, are dangerous opponents.
David Wagner’s men have snatched 15 points from a possible 27 against their chief relegation rivals in 2017-18.
Playing more aggressively and with greater ambition against those sides around them in the table, Huddersfield have landed some key wins, including handsome away victories at Crystal Palace and Watford.
As 18/5 shots I find the Terriers an attractive bet.
My sense is that it could easily be cagey.
Wagner’s underdogs have kept five clean sheets in nine outings against the stragglers this term, and on the back of nine goals shipped by the Baggies in three games, Pardew will demand better discipline at the back.
Therefore a 0-0 draw would not surprise me at 6/1.
It’s a result that suits neither team, and might not be enough to save Pardew or Albion’s bacon.
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