with Nick Pulford
This is one of the best weekends to bet on the English Premier League so far this season, with three standout away bets courtesy of Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham.
Chelsea visit Manchester City and the first inclination was to oppose them, as City are a solid side despite the loss of their early-season momentum. Their run of seven straight draws in the Premier League has put pressure on manager Mark Hughes, but it is no mean feat to have lost only once this season - unluckily, away to local rivals United.
The Londoners, remember, have been defeated twice in the league this season and Manchester United have lost three games, so there is no doubt City are up there with the best teams, even though they have slipped to seventh in the table. They beat Arsenal 4-2 at Eastlands during their bright start to the season and went toe to toe with United at Old Trafford, equalising three times in a pulsating match before going down 4-3 at the very end.
At the odds, however, Chelsea rate a good bet to stretch their winning run to six in the league since their 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa on October 17. They have scored 17 goals without reply during their five-match winning streak, which has included victories over United and Arsenal, and in the same period they have won two Champions League games to nil - 4-0 at home to Atletico Madrid and 1-0 away to Porto.
Didier Drogba is at his destructive best, which is worrying for a City defence that has shown a lack of cohesion in recent weeks. After opening the season with clean sheets in their first three games, City have kept only one clean sheet in their last 10 league games and that was only because of an inspired display by Shay Given in the goalless draw at Birmingham City, with James McFadden having a penalty saved by the City goalkeeper.
Across the City defence there are problems, with Joleon Lescott unconvincing in a central role, Kolo Toure showing the lack of resilience that emerged during the latter part of his Arsenal career and Wayne Bridge leaving alarming holes on the left-hand side.
City are likely to give Chelsea's defence a sterner test than most teams have been able to do, with Craig Bellamy's pace and trickery a particular threat, but Chelsea will be hard to break down. They have kept a clean sheet in 15 of their 23 games in all competitions under Carlo Ancelotti and, as in previous seasons under Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink, their mean defence gives them a solid platform for victory.
Chelsea can also boast an excellent head-to-head record against City, with eight wins out of nine and only one goal conceded since a 1-0 defeat at City just over five years ago when City's winner was scored by Nicolas Anelka, who has since swapped sides and will line up for Chelsea tonight.
Anelka scored in Chelsea's 3-1 win in this fixture last season, which took Chelsea's Premier League record in away games against City to 10 wins, one draw and one defeat. On the evidence of recent meetings between the sides, Chelsea will let City come on to them and pick them off on the counter-attack, and at the moment there is no better side in England at doing that.
Blackburn Rovers will be on a high after their midweek Carling Cup win on penalties over Chelsea, albeit against a largely second-string side put out by the league leaders, and they will fancy their chances of taking another big scalp when they host Liverpool tonight.
For all their faults, however, Liverpool remain a highly effective side against the teams who aren't in contention for a European place. They have won six out of eight against teams from outside the top eight this season - the sole defeat was 3-1 away to Fulham, which was probably the worst display of a disappointing campaign.
Last season Liverpool won seven out of 10 away to bottom-half teams; this season they have won all three so far in that category, so it can be argued that their odds should be shorter for tonight's game.
The third standout away bet is Tottenham Hotspur, who visit struggling Everton tomorrow. Everton were unlucky in last week's 2-0 home defeat by Liverpool and to a certain extent their midweek win in the Europa League was a sign of progress, but their form is several notches below Tottenham's.
Everton are 11 points behind Tottenham after 14 games and all four of their wins have been against other teams in the bottom eight, which suggests they are in the lower half of the table on merit. They have taken only two points from seven games against teams in the top 12, scoring just four goals in those games, and will find it difficult to match Tottenham.
Under Harry Redknapp, Tottenham have made great strides as an away side and this season their only defeats on the road have been at Chelsea and Arsenal. Apart from those games, Tottenham have scored in every away match and in nine games this season started by Jermain Defoe against teams outside the big four they have hit 30 goals.
Redknapp admitted last week that the personnel at his disposal gives him little option but to go on the offensive and Tottenham could overwhelm under-performing Everton. They look solid enough as a handicap bet at least.
In their past nine matches with Manchester City, Chelsea have won: 8
The total goals scored by Tottenham in nine games featuring Jermain Defoe: 30
Points lost by Stoke City from a winning position - the highest in the league: 12
Shortlist: Hamburg, Leverkusen, Bochum, Liverpool, Colchester, Millwall, Tranmere, Chelsea, Lorient, Bari, Tottenham, Auxerre, Getafe
Top five tips
1 Liverpool away win
Still a cut above the bulk of the Premier League
2 Chelsea away win
On a roll after five straight wins in the league
3 Tottenham on handicap
A formidable away team with a potent attack
4 Leverkusen away win
Seven wins out of nine against teams outside the top six
5 Millwall on handicap
Solid chance after only one defeat in past 10 games