Can Everton give neutral fans the perfect result?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 April, 2012, 12:00am


For anyone but a Manchester United fan, the perfect results at the top of the English Premier League this weekend would be a draw for United at home to Everton and victory for Manchester City away to bottom club Wolves.

That would reduce United's lead to three points with three matches to play and would set up the chance for City to go back to the top on goal difference with victory over United on Monday week.

The City-United showdown will at least be a match of some significance in the title race as long as City win at Wolves, and anything other than a City victory looks inconceivable in view of last week's high-scoring success at Norwich and Wolves' pitiful form of recent weeks.

Wolves have taken just two points from their past 10 games, conceding 29 goals during that run (including five on three occasions and three in two matches). That makes them ill-equipped to tackle City, who have suffered four of their five away defeats by being shut out by the opposition (the only home team to have conceded and beaten them are Chelsea). When they have scored on the road, City have won eight, drawn three and lost only one - away to bottom-half teams, they have won six and drawn one when scoring.

There seems little doubt City will win, though of course the odds are very short. One alternative is over 2.5 goals, as eight of the 12 away games in which City have scored have gone over that mark. The inclination is to believe that they will cover the handicap too, but it is worth noting that the Norwich win was only their fourth on the road by more than a two-goal margin and the first since the stunning 6-1 victory at United in October.

What the Norwich match did above all was to heighten the sense of 'what might have been' if Carlos Tevez had been available for the whole season. His hat-trick made it four goals in two games back in Roberto Mancini's starting line-up and the stats, if not the words and body language, suggest Tevez and Mancini are a match made in heaven.

As a player with a measurable impact on his team's performances, there are few who come close to Tevez. The Argentinian has scored 41 goals in 51 Premier League starts for Mancini, including 15 as first scorer, and City have won 24 and drawn one of the 25 matches in which he has started and scored.

Tevez's return to the starting line-up and his immediate impact - coupled with Sergio Aguero's equally excellent form - supports the view that the Wolves-City match is set to be high-scoring. Backing Tevez to be first scorer looks a reasonable bet, too.

Even with Tevez back to spearhead the attack for the final few games, City are left hoping for a slip-up from United. That is not beyond the realms of possibility, with two of United's final three games (apart from the City clash) against teams in the top half of the table.

The first is tomorrow against Everton, whose recent results at Old Trafford suggest United will have to work hard for three points. Although they have lost seven out of nine away to United under David Moyes (with two draws), four of the defeats were by a single goal.

A point for Everton would not be a surprise, although their record against the other teams in the top eight (nine defeats out of 12, including all six away) is a weakness. A notable factor is that nine of those 12 games have had under 2.5 goals and, as Everton have the highest percentage of Premier League games with under 2.5 goals (70 per cent), a low-scoring game looks the best bet.

The Champions League places available for the third and fourth finishers have developed into a four-way battle and Arsenal will go a long way to securing one of the slots if they beat Chelsea at home in tonight's big game.

Arsenal, for all their problems, have won 12 out of 17 at home in the league - a win rate bettered only by the Manchester clubs - and they are the pick despite Chelsea's resurgent form.

Roberto Di Matteo's team scaled new heights on Wednesday with a 1-0 home win over Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final, but the big matches just keep coming and they are not getting much rest in between - tonight's early kick-off comes little more than 60 hours after the end of the Barcelona game.

The best bet in the Premier League is Tottenham, one of the other teams in the hunt for a Champions League place. Although Harry Redknapp's team have slipped in the second half of the season, they have still won six out of nine away to teams outside the top eight and are worth backing at fourth-bottom QPR.

The 'something v nothing to play for' argument always comes up at this stage of the season and it will be tested in the championship in particular this weekend, with the majority of the teams having only pride at stake.

The teams to note that do have something to play for are Cardiff, Blackpool, Birmingham, Bristol City, Coventry, Portsmouth and West Ham. None of those teams come up as a bet on ratings, but West Ham on the handicap and home wins for Cardiff and Blackpool look reasonable odds on a weekend when rock-solid chances are thin on the ground.


Tottenham, Cardiff, Blackpool, West Ham, Real Sociedad, Stuttgart, Hamburg.


1 Tottenham away win

This is their first trip to a bottom-half team in 2012

2 Blackpool home win

Only promoted Reading have beaten them in the last eight

3 West Ham on handicap

Only Reading have beaten them in the last 16

4 Stuttgart away win

Seven wins in a nine-match unbeaten run

5 Hamburg on handicap

Notably low defeat rate against bottom-half teams