Home is where the hope is for United against Liverpool

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 February, 2012, 12:00am

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Manchester United v Liverpool Part III is top of the bill on this weekend's English Premier League programme and home advantage should enable United to get the better of their bitter rivals for the first time this season.

The reverse league fixture ended 1-1 in October, thanks to a late Javier Hernandez equaliser for United, but a fortnight ago Liverpool came out on top 2-1 at Anfield in their FA Cup fourth-round tie. With Liverpool having triumphed 3-1 at home in the league last March, United will be grateful to be on home soil this time.

The last meeting at Old Trafford was in the third round of the FA Cup last year and was notable also as Kenny Dalglish's first match in charge on his return as Liverpool manager. United won 1-0, thanks to an early Ryan Giggs penalty, but the match was shaped by Steven Gerrard's sending-off, which reduced Liverpool to 10 men for two-thirds of the match.

But, as with Liverpool's burgeoning dominance of this fixture at home, United have had the upper hand in recent meetings at Old Trafford. Alex Ferguson's team have won seven of the last eight home games against Liverpool - the exception being a Fernando Torres-inspired 4-1 victory for Liverpool in 2008-09, which was the season Liverpool pushed United so close in the title race.

Apart from United's recent success rate, the other notable factor in Old Trafford clashes is that five of the last eight have had over 2.5 goals. Liverpool's low-scoring habits under Dalglish bring into question whether that will be the case again, although both teams have scored in the three Anfield meetings since his return (two had over 2.5 goals).

United, who have won 12 out of 14 at home to big-six teams in the past 21/2 seasons (12 of the 14 have also had over 2.5 goals), are the logical pick for the win and rate the best bet on the Premier League programme.

Manchester City, having opened a two-point lead, may fancy their chances of extending the advantage with a relatively easy-looking match away to Aston Villa.

Alex McLeish was a master of suffocating tactics at Birmingham, who had a solid home record against the big teams, but he has not been able to instil the same mindset at Villa. Under McLeish, Villa have lost four out of six at home to top-half teams (including all three matches against big-six sides) and have yet to keep a clean sheet in that category.

It has been a different story on the road, where Villa are hard to break down, and McLeish is likely to opt for more of an away set-up in tomorrow's match. That could present problems for City, given the nagging doubt that opponents may have worked out how to stifle Roberto Mancini's side.

Villa also carry more threat in attack now, with Robbie Keane in sparkling form during his loan spell, and that puts another question mark against City, who have won only one of the last six games in which they have conceded.

City have won four of their last five overall in the Premier League but still their odds look too short, as they have won just one of their last six away games (and that was only 1-0 at bottom club Wigan). Their win rate away to bottom-half teams is now only just over 50 per cent.

Two of the more intriguing fixtures of the weekend are Sunderland v Arsenal and Swansea v Norwich. Strange as it may seem, Arsenal have been the worst team among that quartet over the past 10 games and they are from certain to turn that around at Sunderland.

Since Martin O'Neill took charge at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland have been one of the form teams of the Premier League - on a par with Manchester United and better than Manchester City and Tottenham - and there is no reason for them to fear Arsenal.

The Gunners have taken a solitary point from their last three away games, whereas Sunderland have won four and drawn one of their five home league games under O'Neill, conceding just two goals in the process.

A clean sheet will be more difficult to achieve against Arsenal, but there is a good chance of Sunderland getting on the scoresheet as Arsene Wenger's defence is especially leaky on the road. A home win is attractive at such big odds, with Sunderland on the handicap a solid option.

Swansea and Norwich, the two surprise packages of the season, look evenly matched in their clash. Swansea's main strength is their home form but their draw rate is quite high and Norwich have been resilient on the road, with just one defeat out of seven away to teams below them.

Swansea's rising confidence and increased goal threat may give them the edge, but it's just a hunch.

The bottom six take on each in what could prove a pivotal weekend in the relegation battle. The best bet could be Bolton, who have taken 10 points from their last five games against teams outside the top six.

Mark Hughes will be hopeful of a winning return to Blackburn, who have lost more games at home (nine) than any Premier League team. QPR have yet to catch fire for Hughes, but the signs are promising and they continue to look a team worth considering at big odds.

Shortlist

Shortlist: Manchester United, Sunderland, Hull, Blackpool, Charlton, Colchester, Espanyol, Werder Bremen.

TOP 5 BETS

1 Manchester United home win

Can turn the tables at Old Trafford

2 Hull home win

Bristol City have lost five of their last six away

3 Charlton away win

Top versus bottom looks a mismatch

4 Colchester on handicap

Hosts Walsall are winless in five in 2012

5 Werder Bremen home win

100 per cent at home to teams outside the top six