Difficult to see how QPR can stop United's charge

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 April, 2012, 12:00am


A month ago, when Manchester City led neighbours United by two points, it seemed inconceivable the English Premier League title race would be virtually decided by early April. What was a three-horse race, until Tottenham dropped away, now looks likely to turn into a triumphal procession for United.

The decisive moment, everyone believed until recently, was going to be City's home clash with United on April 30 but that game is likely to be academic unless United's charge comes to a sudden halt.

United have the opportunity to open an eight-point lead tomorrow with a home victory over QPR and even Roberto Mancini admits that would be game over for his City side, whose visit to Arsenal follows immediately after the United match.

Alex Ferguson's experienced players have taken full advantage of having an easier run-in than City and seven consecutive victories have turned the title race on its head. It's difficult to see how fourth-bottom QPR can end that run, although it may not be as simple as the league table suggests.

Old Trafford is a forbidding arena and Blackburn are the only team from the bottom half of the table to leave with anything this season - the other six visitors in that category have been dispatched by an aggregate of 18 goals to one.

Form says United will win by two or three goals to nil (the reverse fixture, before Mark Hughes took charge at Loftus Road, was 2-0 to United) but there is a nagging suspicion QPR could make it harder than expected.

The problem is we don't really know how good QPR are. Hughes came in during the season to save Blackburn from relegation in 2004-05 and, although he has had less time at QPR, the signs are he could do the same for the London club.

What happened at Blackburn was they finished sixth in Hughes' first full season in charge and QPR, if they survive, could be a significant climber next season. Hughes, like Alan Pardew at Newcastle, has proven ability as a top-half manager in the Premier League.

For a while it seemed that Hughes would run out of time at QPR but home wins over Liverpool and Arsenal have revived their hopes of avoiding the drop. They have to prove they can perform to the same level on the road, but QPR have at least demonstrated they are a threat to big-six teams - they also beat Chelsea at home under previous manager Neil Warnock, although that was heavily influenced by two sendings-off for the visitors.

QPR have lost all three away games against big-six sides, but two (against Arsenal and Liverpool) were only 1-0. They haven't shown good away form for Hughes (one point from five games) but, with a nucleus of players who are easily good enough to play in a top-half team (Bobby Zamora, Joey Barton, Nedum Onuoha, Anton Ferdinand, Adel Taarabt), they are open to improvement.

City's match at Arsenal is tough to call. Mancini's side trail United by 14 points in the away form table - which goes a long way towards explaining the swing in their fortunes - but they have won six out of seven overall against top-six teams, including two out of three on the road.

Most of the good results were in the first half of the season, however, and there is a question mark over whether they can reproduce it.

Arsenal have won two out of three at home to top-six teams and, with their recent improvement, they just get the vote on the handicap.

A more solid pick is over 2.5 goals, which has occurred in 20 of the 25 games between top-six teams.

The best bet in the Premier League is a match of no great significance - Norwich vs Everton - but the improving visitors rate a good bet on the handicap. They are unbeaten in nine away games against teams outside the top eight.

Another handicap bet to consider is Sunderland at home to Tottenham. Under Martin O'Neill, Sunderland have lost only once in eight home games in the Premier League. Their win rate is 75 per cent.

Stoke look a banker at home to Wolves, who are in dire form.

Apart from Wolves, who look doomed, the other relegation-threatened clubs are improving, which could make the battle for survival a compelling contest over the final weeks.

Bolton, in 16th place, have a chance to create more breathing space today when they host Fulham, while there are tough games for Wigan (away to Chelsea) and Blackburn (also away, but with more hope of a result at West Brom).

Bolton were the worst home side in the Premier League through the first half of the season but they have since found better form with four wins, two draws and just one defeat at home to top-flight opposition.

That gives Bolton a good win chance today and their stats point strongly to over 2.5 goals.


Wins out of nine for Chelsea in all competitions under Roberto Di Matteo


Everton, Derby, Brentford, Espanyol, Roma, Schalke, Leverkusen.


1 Everton on handicap

On the up and have a solid record against teams below them

2 Espanyol home win

Good bet against Spain's fourth-worst away team

3 Roma away win

Up and down on the road but this is a great chance

4 Schalke home win

High home win rate makes them worth the risk at the odds

5 Leverkusen on handicap

Hosts Hamburg have won only two out of 14 at home