Liverpool shaping up as big-match warriors
Record suggests Rodgers' Reds will rise to the occasion against Manchester United
Liverpool's best performance by far under Brendan Rodgers was the 2-2 draw at home to Manchester City and they will have to reach a similar level if they are to repel Manchester United tomorrow.
Rodgers might have preferred this match to come later in the season, after more time to settle in at Anfield, but at least he knows there will be no lack of motivation for his team in what is sure to be a highly charged atmosphere. There is evidence that Liverpool are becoming a big-match team and their biggest problem is inconsistency against the lesser sides. Apart from Arsenal, who appear to be a bogey side, having beaten them twice at home in the past six months, no other big-six team has won at Anfield in seven league and cup matches since the start of last season.
That points to Liverpool as the best bet on the handicap and there is further support from United's recent poor results at Anfield: four defeats and a draw in league and cup since their last win almost five years ago.
Manchester City v Arsenal is tomorrow's big game and it promises to be a good indicator of whether the Gunners' resurgence is likely to be more than temporary.
Steve Bould, a rock at centre-half in his playing days, is clearly having a major influence as Arsenal's defensive coach, with only one goal conceded in four Premier League games. Arsene Wenger's side will always create chances and, if their attack is protected by a more solid defence, they could be serious contenders at the top again.
Keeping out free-scoring City will be tough, and some of the bad habits were back when Arsenal beat Montpellier in the midweek Champions League game, but City's defensive frailty gives Wenger hope of taking something from the game.
City have conceded in all six games this season (on four occasions more than once) and, having relied too heavily on being able to outscore the opposition, the elastic was bound to snap sooner or later. That happened against Real Madrid on Tuesday and could do again if Arsenal are able to keep them to a low score.
Most of the stats point emphatically to a City win, however. Roberto Mancini's side have won their last six at home to big-six sides and, although Arsenal won 3-0 at the Etihad two years ago, that result was heavily influenced by a fifth-minute sending-off for City. Leaving out that result, City have won 33 out of 39 at home since the start of Mancini's first full season and on that basis their win odds are attractive.
Everton remain a team to follow on the handicap in away games and they look solid again in today's early kick-off at Swansea. David Moyes' side lost 2-0 at West Brom in their last away game, but their underlying form is excellent (no other defeat in their last 13 league games).
Chelsea have one of the better records against Stoke and should keep their good start going, but they do not appeal as a great bet because most of their wins against Stoke have been low-scoring.
Aston Villa are tempting at Southampton, on the handicap at least, after starting to turn the corner under Paul Lambert. But there is little evidence to go on with either side and Southampton might be capable of improvement now their tough run of early fixtures is out of the way.
Reading face a difficult task at West Brom, who look one of the best home bets on the Premier League programme. Newcastle are similar odds at home to Norwich and should win, too.
West Ham v Sunderland is too tough to call, as both teams have started well and look capable of finishing in the top half of the table. This could be tight, with both teams having low goal averages in their games so far, and under 2.5 goals looks the best option.
Wigan v Fulham is another difficult game to weigh up. Wigan have continued last season's late upswing in form, but Fulham have started well too. The problem with backing Fulham is their away form often lags some way behind their strong home record.
Tottenham finally found some scoring form against Reading and should get more shooting practice at home to QPR, but a longer run of good form is needed before Andre Villas-Boas' side can really be regarded as a reliable team at short odds.
TOP 5 BETS
1 Everton on handicap Can make up for bad luck against Newcastle
2 West Brom home win Excellent start and this looks their easiest fixture yet
3 Manchester City home win Home record too good to ignore
4 Brighton on handicap Good chance of fifth successive win
5 Hannover on handicap Can open up Hoffenheim’s leaky defence
Everton, West Brom, Manchester City, Brighton, Swindon, Hannover, Betis.
Today (10pm unless stated): Swansea City v Everton (7:45pm) Chelsea v Stoke City, Southampton v Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion v Reading, West Ham United v Sunderland, Wigan Athletic v Fulham.
Sunday: Liverpool v Manchester United (8:30pm), Newcastle United v Norwich City, Manchester City v Arsenal (11pm) Tottenham Hotspur v Queens Park Rangers (1am, Mon morning).