Money on double derbies proving miles apart
Two of the biggest derby matches take centre stage in the English Premier League this weekend when Everton host Liverpool and Tottenham face Arsenal. On recent evidence the Merseyside clash is likely to be tight and fierce, while the showdown in north London promises more goals and excitement for the purists.
In the past four seasons, Everton and Liverpool have met 10 times, with eight of those matches having under 2.5 goals, and there have been six sendings-off. One of the exceptions to the rule came in the most recent clash, in January, when both teams finished with a full quota of players and the score was 2-2. It was the first Merseyside derby with so many goals in almost five years.
That game came shortly after Kenny Dalglish was re-appointed manager of Liverpool. His first reign at Anfield ended with a glut of high-scoring derbies, including the infamous 4-4 at Goodison that led to his resignation.
That type of open derby is rare on Merseyside nowadays and could be down to the influence of Everton manager David Moyes. Sixty per cent of the derbies during his reign have had under 2.5 goals and the Moyes game plan against the elite teams is to aim for a clean sheet.
Under 2.5 goals is well covered at the odds and the best bet looks to be Liverpool, who are playing away at Goodison Park, on the handicap. It is slightly worrying that Liverpool have been beaten to nil in their last two away games, but before that they had scored in nine out of 11 on the road under Dalglish.
Tottenham v Arsenal at White Hart Lane is an altogether different kind of derby, which is not surprising with the attack-minded Harry Redknapp involved.
Redknapp's first match in the dugout for Tottenham was the dramatic 4-4 at the Emirates in October 2008 and since then five out of six north London derbies have had over 2.5 goals.
The exception was a goalless draw in Redknapp's first home derby, but, even with that included, Redknapp's north London derbies have averaged more than four goals per game.
It's not just Redknapp's influence, because seven of the eight derbies before his arrival had over 2.5 goals. Overall, in the history of the Premier League, Tottenham v Arsenal has produced more games with over 2.5 goals than low-scoring matches.
Once again, the goals angle looks well covered at the odds but there is an alternative. Whereas Tottenham were once easy prey for the elite sides, Redknapp has established them as a top team partly through his record in big-six clashes. The 5-1 defeat by Manchester City in their opening home game this season looks a blip because since then they have beaten Liverpool 4-0, albeit with a two-man advantage by the end. That win took Redknapp's record at home to the other big-six sides to nine wins, six draws and just two defeats in 17 games.
Arsenal have not won at White Hart Lane in the league since Redknapp took charge (Tottenham's record in those games is one win and two draws), and Tottenham are worth backing at the odds because their form looks better than Arsenal's this season.
Tottenham had a sticky start, losing heavily to the two Manchester clubs, but they may have been affected by their scheduled opening game being postponed and they have improved rapidly since then.
Redknapp's side have won their last three in the league, whereas Arsenal have yet to impress. Their form is particularly poor on the road, with just three wins out of 12 in the league in 2011 (all three against last season's relegated clubs).
The table is starting to take shape with Arsenal, who lie in an unaccustomed 13th place, the only club from the big six not already in the top six. It is early to be sure of the rest, but the best so far outside the big six are Newcastle, in fourth place, Stoke (seventh) and Aston Villa (eighth).
There are reasons why all three might be capable of staying in the top half of the table. Stoke's overall form, both domestically and in the Europa League, suggests they have taken another step forward, especially as they have played three of the big six in their opening six games and not lost to any of them.
Newcastle and Villa have tight defences and are both unbeaten, which is no mean feat in any six-match spell in the Premier League. They have had easier fixture lists than Stoke but look solid.
Of those three early-form teams, Newcastle look the best option for a bet this weekend when they visit Wolves. Since Alan Pardew took over in December, Newcastle's only away defeats have been against Tottenham, Fulham, Stoke, Villa and Liverpool - all strong home teams and/or high finishers last season.
Wolves appeared to start well this season but have struggled again recently, losing their last three games. Their two wins were against Fulham and Blackburn, who are both in the bottom four, and it looks now as if they are little better than last season. Newcastle, by contrast, are much improved and rate a good handicap bet.
Times Everton and Liverpool have met in the past four seasons. Eight of those matches had under 2.5 goals
Liverpool, Newcastle, Tottenham, Osasuna, Real Betis, Werder Bremen, Schalke, Palermo
TOP 5 BETS
1. Liverpool on handicap
Much likelier winners in a tight derby contest
2. Newcastle on handicap
Odds have yet to catch up with their solid start
3. Osasuna home win Mallorca are poor travellers with nine away defeats in 13 this year
4. Schalke on handicap
High scorers can rip through leaky Hamburg defence
5. Palermo home win
Overpriced, with 62% home win rate since start of last seasonTODAY
7.45pm Everton v Liverpool