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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 April, 2010, 12:00am

Change is in the air in the big five European leagues, with the possibility of new champions in at least four of them, but most of the current leaders have not sealed the deal yet. There is only a one-point lead in England, Italy and Spain (where Barcelona are the only current champions among the big five on top again this season) and the closing games are going to be a test of nerve as much as skill.

Chelsea, Barcelona and Bayern Munich (who lead by two in Germany) all hold pole position thanks to recent away wins against their nearest rivals, but now they need to press home their advantage. All three face easy tasks this weekend and can expect another three points, and so can the nearest pursuers in Spain (Real Madrid) and Germany (Schalke), which means the greatest potential for a title-deciding change is in the English Premier League when Manchester United host fourth-placed Tottenham tonight.

This is a must-win game for United - and for Tottenham as they try to hold on to the place that will qualify them for the Champion League. The defending champions will need to be on guard against a buoyant Tottenham coming off back-to-back wins that put a hole in Arsenal's title challenge and a dent in Chelsea's.

The difference this time is that Tottenham are away from the home comforts of White Hart Lane, where they have beaten four of the other six teams in the top seven this season and lost only to United, who won the reverse fixture 3-1 in September despite Tottenham taking a first-minute lead.

Tottenham are far less effective against the top teams on the road with only one point from four road trips to top-seven teams and comprehensive defeats at Chelsea, Arsenal (both 3-0) and Liverpool (2-0). Tottenham have already been to Old Trafford this season, losing 2-0 in a Carling Cup tie in December, and their long-term flakiness on the road is clear in a poor record away to United, with 14 defeats and just three draws from 17 visits in the Premier League.

Punters looking for a bet on this match should look for United wins to nil (another 2-0 being a reasonable choice) and the champions to cover the handicap.

The other big match in the Premier League, in terms of closeness between the two sides, is Arsenal at home to Manchester City. Arsenal's shattering defeat at Wigan has left them marooned in third place, detached from the title race, but well clear of the scramble for fourth, and there has to be some doubt about their level of motivation.

On form, however, Arsenal rate a stronger chance than the odds suggest. At home this season their only defeats have been against the top two and their record against the teams below them is won 14, drawn one. In fact, since losing 2-0 at home to Aston Villa in November 2008, Arsenal are unbeaten in 28 at the Emirates stadium against Premier League opponents, apart from Chelsea and United, with 23 wins.

City have beaten Arsenal twice this season at Eastlands, but like Tottenham they are less effective on the road against top-class opposition and their only away victory against a top-seven side was the 4-2 win at Chelsea two months ago, which was nowhere near as convincing as the scoreline suggests.

Some assistance from Arsenal may well be needed for City to win and, while that cannot be ruled out if last week's fragility resurfaces, the Gunners are good value on overall form.

Elsewhere in the English leagues, there is a growing number of teams with nothing left to play for and these teams should be treated with some caution in the coming weeks. The 'nothing to play for' scenario is a contentious subject among soccer punters, with some believing it is a major factor and others arguing that the inflated odds often on offer about these teams makes them worth backing, and last season those in the latter camp would have had the better of the betting battle in the closing weeks of the season.

That may have been a blip, however, because the greater body of evidence indicates that having nothing to play for does have a significant effect on late-season results.

Last weekend, two teams fell into this category in the English leagues and both failed to win, with Portsmouth losing at home to Aston Villa and Doncaster drawing at Ipswich.

Those teams are on a more extensive list this weekend, along with Birmingham, Fulham, Stoke, Blackburn and Sunderland in the Premier League and a host of other teams in the Championship and League One.

Clearly it is in Chelsea's favour on the title run-in that they are at home to one of those teams, Stoke, this weekend and in their final game will host another team that looks likely to be in that category by then, when Wigan are the visitors to Stamford Bridge.

Wigan Athletic are not quite safe yet, however, and tonight they face a crunch game away to West Ham. The battle at the bottom will tighten considerably if West Ham win and Hull and Wolves both take advantage of their home games against two of those teams with nothing to play for, Sunderland and Blackburn respectively.

Hull and Wolves are well worth considering, but the game at West Ham is difficult to call with Wigan so inconsistent.

Double figures

Wins for Arsenal in 12 Premier League home games played against Manchester City: 10

Good run

Straight wins for Aston Villa in derby matches against Birmingham City: 5

Wide margin

Out of Chelsea's 10 home victories over teams outside the top eight, they have won by more than two goals in: 6

Top five bets

1 Schalke away win

Excellent chance to maintain title challenge with victory over bottom club

2 Arsenal home win

On form their odds are too big despite some doubt over their motivation

3 Hamburg on handicap

Even a second-string side should be good enough for Europa League semi-finalists

4 Bilbao on handicap

Better than a 50 per cent win rate against teams below them in the table

5 West Bromwich on handicap Eight wins in an unbeaten run of 10 games and can finish on a high

Shortlist: Schalke, Wolves, Arsenal, Milan, Hamburg, Bilbao, West Brom

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