After a break for international fixtures, the Premier League makes a welcome return this weekend on an exciting card. As always, the clubs will be praying their stars arrive fit and ready to go for another important weekend’s action and here are my best picks, with some leans also on the big matches.
Crystal Palace vs. Chelsea (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET)
It would be difficult to describe Crystal Palace as spectacular so far this season, but they have been steady. A strong Arsenal side did beat them 3-0 at Selhurst Park on the opening day of the season but overall they are a strong team at home.
I believe this is a more important game for them than for the visitors. From now till the break for the World Cup, Palace have a run of if not easy then winnable games. It is this run of games that I believe will decide their season and they will be desperate for a positive result against their London rivals on Saturday.
As for Chelsea, well, oh dear, where do I start? Their recent away form has been dreadful with 3 defeats in their last 3 away games at Leeds, Southampton and Zagreb! No offense to fans of these three but that's hardly top opposition.
This is new manager Graham Potter’s first EPL fixture in charge and after his first game -- a poor 1-1 Champions League effort against Salzburg -- this looks a big task for the former Brighton boss and to me he may regret the move in a few months from now. Regarding the Champions League, Chelsea has a vitally important clash with Italian Champions AC Milan on Wednesday. Defeat in that would mean they would be unlikely to qualify for the next stage and I believe that game is more important to the club than this fixture with Palace.
It all adds up to a massive opportunity for Palace.
Pick: Crystal Palace + 0.75 at -130
West Ham vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET)
Make sure you don’t set your alarm so you might sleep through this one because it is unlikely to be a classic! In all seriousness, though, it does present a strong case for an Under bet at -133 as I will set out.
Let’s start with the home team, West Ham, whose coach David Moyes must be tempted to show his players a map displaying where the goal is. The hapless Hammers have only scored three goals all season and only one of those came at home. They were last seen losing to equally goal-shy Everton in a game where this bet comfortably landed. David Moyes insists West Ham is playing better than its results suggest but I am far from convinced that is the case and they seem to lack ideas in attacking situations.
Now let’s discuss the visiting Wolves, who are hardly treating their fans to a goal fest this season. Negative, dull and boring are kind ways to describe watching Wolves this season, and like West Ham, they have only hit the net three times this entire season. Only one of those three goals came away from home and they have failed to score in five of their EPL fixtures this season. No team has more HT draws than Wolves and that is a bet that appeals at + 114 on Saturday.
Wolves may give a debut to new signing Diego Costa, but I don’t think that will help and as always they will play as a team not trying to win but rather trying not to get beat.
Taking both teams into consideration, this is a big bet on the Under and a correct score of 0-0 looks a big contender to me as well. In this fixture last year, both games ended in 1-0 home wins, and I see Saturday being another dull, low-scoring encounter.
Pick: Under 2.5 Goals at -133
Leicester vs. Nottingham Forest (Monday, 3 p.m. ET)
This Monday fixture is a local Derby with both teams based in the Midlands and it screams one word to me . . . GOALS !
Sadly, for both teams it has to be clashed as a relegation battle and between them they have lost their last eight EPL fixtures, but it is not in the makeup of both teams to play it cagey and go for the draw.
Let’s start with the home team, Leicester, who in the previous two seasons has been contenders for the Champions League places and not mired in a relegation dogfight.
Leicester have conceded 22 goals this season, the most of any team in the entire league. Their manager, Brendan Rogers, who bears a striking resemblance to TV detective Kojak, must be choking on his lollipop as his defense leaks goal after goal. They are massively missing departed goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and have conceded more goals than anyone from set pieces.
Despite their defensive problems, Leicester is always an attacking threat and with 10 goals banked they have hit the net more often than Manchester United and Chelsea. They will be hugely concerned that their aging talisman striker Jamie Vardy has failed to score though all season.
Forest is a team always worth watching if you enjoy attacking football and their last three games have produced a total of 16 goals.
It all points to a Magic Monday of goals.
Pick: Over 2.5 Goals at -150
Though I have no official selection in either game, I must briefly mention my thoughts in the two big games of the weekend. The Manchester Derby is always a fascinating clash as is the North London matchup of Arsenal and Tottenham.
Arsenal vs. Tottenham (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET)
The first thing to mention here is Arsenal has an excellent record in this fixture, but under Conte Tottenham have shown new found toughness and steel. I am leaning towards goals in this fixture and Arsenal have scored at least twice in all but one of their EPL fixtures this season as have Tottenham. I will be placing a bit of Pizza money on 2-2 at + 1050 in what should be an entertaining game.
Manchester City vs. Manchester United (Sunday, noon ET)
One of the great fixtures and there is sure to be a fantastic atmosphere. United has certainly turned its season around in a positive way recently but for me they are in for a very difficult afternoon.
City has already won 4-0, 6-0 and 4-2 at home this season and I cannot make a case for the visitors stopping their winning run. City to win to nil makes small appeal to me at + 150 rather than taking the prohibitive minus money on them to win on the money line.