Last week saw a fitting start to the 25th anniversary of the Premier League. Friday night lights at the Emirates Stadium shone as brightly on Arsenal’s defensive failings as much as they did on their undoubted attacking talent, before Liverpool’s continued corner-kick quackery prevented the Merseysiders from claiming maximum points at Watford.
Dan Roebuck previews this weekend’s fixtures, and gives his two cents on what you should be backing.
Debut goals for Alex Lacazette, Mohamed Salah, Alvaro Morata and Romelu Lukaku proved that £200million is enough for an instant return. Wayne Rooney silenced the doubters (again) with the winner for Everton, 13 years after last turning out for the Goodison Park club.
The reigning champions were beaten on the opening day of the season for the first time since 1981, while Jonjo Shelvey’s studs up shenanigans ensured Newcastle’s return to the top flight made the headlines for the wrong reasons.
For punters, a storming start for those that invested in goals petered out, with just one of the last eight games seeing both teams score. There were five winning favourites across the weekend – meaning level stakes bettors returned a loss – and although there was an average of 3.1 goals per game, if you blindly backed ‘unders’ in every fixture you would have claimed a profit.
Will week two see more of the same? Probably, although daft dismissals and detrimental defending are not the sole preserve of the Premier League, as anyone who watched the Spanish Super Cup will testify to.
No Peace In The Valley For The Swans
‘So c’mon David Moyes, play like Fergie’s Boys’ sang the Manchester United away support at the Liberty Stadium – almost four years to the day – as the former Everton manager took charge of the Red Devils in a league fixture for the first time. Their enthusiasm for Moyes’ reign dried up way before he was sacked, but a repeat result of that day this Saturday lunchtime is not out of the question for the 2017/18 United vintage. The visitors won 4-1 in South Wales then and, given their muscular dismissal of West Ham last Sunday, another dominant display is surely on the cards. Lukaku has been cut to 5/2 to be the top Premier League scorer this season, after two goals against the Hammers. And while three goals against the Swans in 10 previous league appearances isn’t exactly a record to boast about, the chances United will create against the rank and file of the top flight this term bodes well for those looking to back the Belgian to either break the deadlock (12/5) or net anytime (10/13). And Grosvenor Sport are price boosting Lukaku to score two (or more) from 9/2 to 5/1.
Top Rocking Traditional Programme Beats
My generation might bemoan the shrinking number of Saturday three o’clock kick-offs in the English top flight, but most fans 25 years my junior don’t really get the gripe of those lamenting matches starting at half a dozen different times over the course of a weekend. With fewer fixtures to study, it should narrow the focus of those that like to test their knowledge against the odds compilers. Pick of the 3pm punts for me are Leicester to beat Brighton, and Liverpool to claim three points at the expense of Crystal Palace.
The Foxes were electric against Arsenal last time out and really should have won in north London. With Brighton looking well short of top flight quality, Craig Shakespeare’s team are must bet material. As are Klopp’s men. Fresh from a professional display away at Hoffenheim, the Reds look too good to miss against an Eagles’ side that will take time to adapt to Frank de Boer’s way of thinking. The double pays just over 5/4.
Stoke Test Still A Signpost
With so many Potters stalwarts shown the door over the last few years, Stoke are in danger of morphing into something other than Stoke. And while Mark Hughes might well want that, some teams will also breathe a sigh a relief that the one-time toughest place to go a Tuesday night has gone a bit soft. Sparky, wouldn’t admit to that, but there are some that might argue that he’s testing the faithful.
In reality, Stoke’s squad is as good as it has ever been. While they were turned over 4-1 by Arsenal on the final home game of last term, the disinterest of the home players was there for all to see, which leads me to believe that this encounter – the first match of the new campaign at the Bet365 Stadium – will be a throwback to the good old days. If a fragile Arsenal back-line returns south with a clean sheet, I’d be amazed. Both teams to score (16/25) and over 2.5 goals (7/10) are two cracking bets; at a venue that is still a barometer of mentality and attitude for visiting teams.
Wembley Worries For Capital Clubs
The gag regarding Jeremie Boga’s inclusion on the Chelsea team-sheet versus Burnley last Saturday, from the assembled scribes at Stamford Bridge at least, was that the young winger had done his job simply by being on the pitch – as it highlighted Antonio Conte’s lack of options (just as the Italian, perhaps, had wanted). That particularly thorny issue for the former Juventus coach is exacerbated by the absence of as many as six key players that led his side to the title last year.
The north-west London venue has hardly been a happy hunting ground for either side recently, though, and, with that in mind, punters could do worse than back the draw when the two teams face off this weekend. Six of the last 15 match-ups have finished all square, which makes odds of 5/2 about right. Six of the last nine meetings have seen over 2.5 goals, which seems another fair bet (at 17/20), while a fourth consecutive red card in a match for the Blues – which would equal a record for an English side in all competitions – is hardly out of the question given the personnel involved.
Rooney’s Blue Monday
The fixture computer has ensured Rooney’s return to Manchester is swift, but as Everton visit Manchester City in a Monday night televised game, the record goalscorer won’t be expecting a hospitable welcome. There’s also little chance of Wazza heading back down the East Lancs Road with a smile on his face either, as Pep Guardiola’s team are well equipped to make it two wins from two.
The title favourites hardened into 7/5 after a professional display away at Brighton last weekend, and with their new-found defensive discipline – the analysts were gushing with their praise of City’s back three on the south coast – complementing a fully fit front two of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, all parts of the City machine seem to be well oiled. Curiously, Everton have managed to prevent the Argentine striker from scoring in each of their last six top flight meetings, but surely that run can’t continue. In each of the last four campaigns, Aguero has netted on his first league home appearance of the new season and I fully expect that run to continue. Back him to grab the opener at 11/4.