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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 May, 2009, 12:00am

This weekend's Premier League programme is shaping up as a game of two halves - five of the matches feature two teams with all still to play for, and five (assuming Manchester United get the point they need to clinch the title today, ending Liverpool's interest) have at least one team with nothing tangible at stake.

The most competitive games are Bolton v Hull, Newcastle v Fulham, Tottenham v Manchester City, West Brom v Liverpool and Portsmouth v Sunderland - in all five games, as things stand, both teams need at least a point to be sure of reaching their target.

The one-sided games are Manchester United v Arsenal, Middlesbrough v Aston Villa, Everton v West Ham and Chelsea v Blackburn, where United, Boro, West Ham and Blackburn have something to play for and their opponents do not (apart from pride and possible positional changes that will not affect qualification issues). Chelsea, for instance, have secured direct entry to next season's Champions League group stage and the only remaining question for them is how much they want to finish second ahead of Liverpool.

Blackburn need just a point to confirm survival - and that is only if results elsewhere go against them - and United need only a point at home to Arsenal to secure a title hat-trick, so even for them the urgency to win is somewhat diluted.

That is not the case for West Ham, who trail Fulham by two points in the chase for the final Europa League place, and emphatically not for Middlesbrough, whose relegation could be confirmed if they fail to beat Villa.

On that basis, backing West Ham and Boro, on the handicap at least, is the advice. The issue of something to play for/nothing to play for matches is always a bone of contention among football punters but, if the odds do not contract too much, the soundest policy is to be with the teams with something to play for.

There has been only one Premier League match in that category so far and that was Fulham v Aston Villa last weekend when Fulham needed the win to boost their Europa League hopes but Villa were sure of a place in that competition and were out of contention for a Champions League spot. Fulham won 3-1 and, while the first half was highly competitive and exciting, the suspicion was that Villa started to lose interest after going 2-1 behind early in the second half.

A similar scenario could unfold at the Riverside today as Boro go for a vital three points, and the other interesting point from the Fulham v Villa match was the high goals tally. Backing over 2.5 goals in Boro v Villa and Everton v West Ham is worth considering.

Manchester United should get the point they need against Arsenal, having asserted their superiority over the Gunners in both legs of the Champions League semi-final. United won only 1-0 in the home leg, but the scoreline did not reflect their dominance and a similar performance should bring a comfortable win.

In that case, Liverpool would be left with only the pride of finishing second to play for at West Brom tomorrow, raising the bottom-placed club's hopes of a miraculous escape. West Brom, like Boro, probably need to win both of their final two games to have any chance of survival and victory over a less-motivated Liverpool side is not out of the question.

West Brom's home record is respectable considering their position (they have won as many home games as Everton and more than Villa) and backing them on the handicap is a reasonable bet at the odds. Again, this is a match that could go over 2.5 goals.

The other crunch matches today involving the strugglers - Bolton v Hull and Newcastle v Fulham - look unlikely to move us any closer to a definitive conclusion in the relegation battle, as both Newcastle and Hull need to find significant improvement to grab a vital win.

Newcastle need to step up again from Monday's 3-1 home win over fellow strugglers Middlesbrough, as they face a Fulham side whose only defeats in their last seven away games were at Manchester United and Chelsea. Newcastle have won two of their previous nine home games against top-half teams, while Fulham have lost only two of their last 10 away to teams below them.

Bolton look likely to get the required point against Hull, who have taken just four points out of a possible 27 on the road since Christmas. The only Premier League match with nothing riding on the outcome is Stoke v Wigan, who are both safe in mid-table with no possibility of being relegated or getting into Europe.

Home comforts

Wins for Manchester United in their last seven games against Arsenal at Old Trafford: 6

Hull on earth

Number of games in which the Tigers have conceded this season, the highest in the Premier League: 30


Hertha Berlin, West Ham, Middlesbrough, Torino.


$200 West Ham (handicap, Sat), Middlesbrough (handicap, Sat). Last week: one winning bet out of one.


The last six Premier League meetings between Tottenham and Manchester City have had a 2-1 scoreline, with Tottenham winning by that score at White Hart Lane in each of the past four seasons.



Bolton v Hull

Everton v West Ham

Manchester United v Arsenal

Middlesbrough v Aston Villa

Newcastle v Fulham

Stoke v Wigan

Tottenham v Manchester City


Chelsea v Blackburn

West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool


Portsmouth v Sunderland