United will face a broken Spurs side, or one all fired up
One of the handicaps for Manchester United in their bid to retain the English Premier League title is they still have to visit their two biggest rivals, whereas leaders Manchester City have already been to United and Tottenham and taken a maximum six points.
The first of those two remaining ultra-tough away games for United is tomorrow at Tottenham and again the pressure is on the title holders to keep pace with City, who are two points ahead and have an easy home game against Bolton.
Depending on your point of view, United will face a Tottenham side that was softened up by Arsenal last weekend or will be fired up to bounce back from that shocking 5-2 defeat. The turnaround at Arsenal is the latest piece of form to show Tottenham are coming up short in the big games.
Harry Redknapp's side have taken eight points from their eight matches against the other members of the big six - in stark contrast to the 17 points earned by United in the same number of matches and the 16 taken by City from seven games. Therein lies the difference between Tottenham and the top two, who will almost certainly be left to fight out the championship.
Tottenham's overall form is impressive, yet their title challenge has stalled in the past two months with defeats at City and Arsenal and draws at Chelsea and Liverpool. They have won just two out of eight against the big six, both at home, and the 4-0 victory over Liverpool was heavily influenced by two sending-offs for the visitors.
United, by contrast, have won five of their eight big-six clashes and suffered only one defeat - the 6-1 at home to City. The sole away win from three matches was the 2-1 at Arsenal six weeks ago and there is encouragement for Spurs in the fact that United were fortunate to escape with draws at Liverpool and Chelsea.
United, however, have a superb record against Tottenham and, unlike the other members of the big six, they have maintained their superiority even during Spurs' period of rapid improvement under Redknapp.
In Premier League history, United have won 28 of the 39 meetings with Tottenham and have taken almost 80 per cent of the points available in those contests. That percentage is slightly higher against the Redknapp-led Tottenham, who have managed just two points from seven league meetings with United (both goalless draws at White Hart Lane).
In fact, United have won 28 out of 35 against Spurs in the Premier League when scoring, which suggests a lot hinges on whether Redknapp's team can keep a clean sheet. Although Tottenham have achieved a shutout in 10 of their 26 league games this season, securing another looks extremely difficult against a United side that have failed to score in just one of their 26 league games (the best record in the Premier League).
The other scoring-related statistic is that more than 2.5 goals has become the norm in big-six matches this season. Sixteen out of 22 have seen more than 2.5 goals (four of the other six have had two goals) and that is despite the figures being dragged down by low-scoring Liverpool.
United and Tottenham are among the most attack-minded teams, with both averaging well over three goals per game this season, and over 2.5 goals looks a good bet at the odds.
A high-scoring contest should favour United, who have won nine and drawn two out of 11 when scoring on the road. That makes them a solid bet on the handicap, with another win against Redknapp's team a distinct possibility.
The other big-six game of the weekend is Liverpool v Arsenal - tonight's early kick-off - but that is not guaranteed to produce the same level of entertainment. As noted, Liverpool are the lowest-scoring among the big six with 64 per cent of their games having under 2.5 goals (the lowest figure of the others is 38 per cent) and all three of their big-six clashes at home have been under that mark.
Arsenal will arrive with some momentum after the avalanche of goals against Tottenham, but Liverpool are unlikely to be such open opponents. Kenny Dalglish's main achievement in his second spell at the club - apart from last week's Carling Cup triumph - is that he has made his team one of the best organised in the Premier League. They have not conceded more than one goal in any home league match this season and, with just eight goals against at Anfield, their home defensive record is bettered only by City.
The last time Liverpool conceded more than one goal at home in the Premier League - against Tottenham in May - was also the only occasion in 23 matches when they have been beaten at Anfield by top-flight opposition since Dalglish's appointment.
Although Arsenal have forged ahead in the battle for a Champions League place, Liverpool's solid home record makes them the pick. Under 2.5 goals is the other standout bet.
Chelsea, Swansea, Reading, Charlton, Brentford, Sevilla, Schalke, Werder Bremen.
TOP 5 BETS
1Chelsea away win
Still much better than hosts despite recent results
2 Reading on handicap
Can make it 14 wins out of their last 18 in the Championship
3 Charlton on handicap
A class above the rest in League One
4 Schalke away win
Excellent opportunity against bottom club
5 Werder Bremen on handicap
Hosts Hertha have lost all seven since the winter break