United hold upper hand over Liverpool
with Nick Pulford
Rarely a stalemate - the big north-west clash has yielded a winner on past 12 meetings
Manchester United can continue their recent dominance over Liverpool in tomorrow's early kick-off in the Premiership. These bitter rivals generally produce a positive result, with no draws in 12 league and cup meetings over the past five seasons, and the recent flow has been in United's direction. Sir Alex Ferguson's team have won five out of six, home and away, in the past three seasons, including on their past three visits to Anfield.
United's defence is providing a more solid platform this season (they conceded for the only time in last week's home 1-1 draw with Manchester City) and their attack gives them the edge. They look the most likely winners and certainly rate as the handicap pick.
The Anfield showdown takes top billing this weekend, but the top-of-the-table clash is at The Valley, where second-placed Charlton host leaders Chelsea. The London rivals are the only Premiership teams with a 100 per cent record, so something has to give, and clearly Chelsea are strong favourites.
They are the top-rated away team on the weekend programme and have plenty in hand. This looks a weekend to be with the away teams, as Spurs, Bolton, Middlesbrough and even Newcastle rate as decent win chances. At the very least, they are the teams to be with on the handicap. Spurs don't have a great record at Aston Villa, but they have the form to take advantage if Villa don't improve on last week's 4-0 thrashing at West Ham.
Bolton won at Manchester City last season - a result that was in line with their overall away record, which ranked behind only the top three last season. City are going well under Stuart Pearce, but they tend to draw too many games.
Boro will be a tough test for Wigan, who are shaping up as a low-scoring side. Steve McClaren's side play very tight on the road and five of their seven away defeats last season came against top-half teams (the other two came against Villa and Portsmouth, both strong home sides). Wigan haven't proved they are in that class yet.
Newcastle won't appeal to many punters at the moment, but they rate as the most likely winners of their match at Blackburn (Match no. SUN 8). Graeme Souness said after Newcastle's home draw with Fulham that he would have preferred Michael Owen's debut to have been in an away match, and the England striker's pace could prove an effective weapon on the counter-attack. However, this is the most obvious draw of the weekend - Newcastle have drawn here on three of their four visits since Blackburn's return to the Premiership - and the handicap looks the safe play on Newcastle.
The top-rated home team are Arsenal, who host Everton in the late Monday game. This is unlikely to be as one-sided as their Highbury meeting at the end of last season, when Arsenal won 7-0, but Everton's away record has declined markedly in 2005 and the Gunners have a clear edge.
Portsmouth, who face Birmingham (SAT 19), are the next-best home chance, even though their form at Fratton Park has declined since Harry Redknapp's departure. Birmingham have been vulnerable on the road since Robbie Savage moved to Blackburn in January - their 3-2 win at West Brom three weeks ago was their only away success in 2005.
Best homes: Arsenal, Portsmouth.
Best aways: Chelsea, Man Utd, Spurs, Bolton, Middlesbrough.
High goals: Arsenal v Everton.
Low goals: Charlton v Chelsea, Blackburn v Newcastle.
thousand-dollar wager - $200 win: Wolfsburg, Bilbao, Milan, Barcelona, Lyon.