Weekend action promises plenty of entertainment
Sunderland are hard to beat, Manchester pair show vulnerability, but best bet is West Brom
The two Manchester clubs bookend the English Premier League programme this weekend with matches against the northeastern teams that should provide plenty of entertainment.
Manchester City vs Sunderland is the curtain-raiser and it will be well worth watching if it is only half as good as last season's equivalent fixture, which ended 3-3. That game was almost the death knell for City's title hopes, but they fought back from 3-1 down with five minutes to play and from there they took 18 points out of 21 to emerge as champions.
Although City were at home, a draw was not such a bad result because Sunderland at the time were one of the form teams in the league. Under Martin O'Neill they had taken 29 points from 16 games - form that would take them to fourth or fifth place in the table if it was reproduced over an entire season.
Sunderland remain hard to beat, with just eight defeats in 29 league games under O'Neill, and most of the losses have been against high-class teams (Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Everton). The one major weakness in Sunderland's record is their poor form away to top sides - no win in nine against teams that finished in the top half last season or are in the top half this season.
While that suggests a strong win chance for City, the negative for the champions is the number of goals they are conceding. They haven't kept a clean sheet in ten games in all competitions and it is notable that Sunderland have lost only two of the 19 league games in which they have scored under O'Neill.
Overall it's a difficult match to weigh up, and perhaps the safest bet is over 2.5 goals, even though the odds are skinny.
Manchester United, like City, are showing some signs of vulnerability and they might have more problems at Newcastle.
Alan Pardew has had a 0-0 draw and 3-0 win at home against United as Newcastle boss and last week he was unfortunate not to bear fruit with his attacking approach in the 2-1 League Cup defeat at Old Trafford.
Newcastle have done well against the top teams at home under Pardew and there are question marks over United, who have lost two out of three so far against teams that finished in the top eight last season (the only win was against 10-man Liverpool). Newcastle are the pick on the handicap and this match could go over 2.5 goals as well.
The best bet in the Premier League is West Brom, good value for a home win over bottom club QPR. Under new manager Steve Clarke, West Brom have carried on last season's strong finish despite some difficult early fixtures. QPR's spending has not paid off yet and their away form is especially poor under Mark Hughes.
Chelsea surely will be far too good for Norwich and Liverpool have a strong chance at home to Stoke, whose away record against the big six is won one and lost 21 out of 25 since promotion.
Those two look the best short-odds bankers on the Premier League programme.
Tottenham might also be in that category based on last week's impressive win at Old Trafford, but it's difficult to find a good-value way of backing them.
Aston Villa, the visitors to White Hart Lane tomorrow night, might still turn out to be a surprise package this season and the best bet in this game could be over 2.5 goals.
Everton are being priced up too short after their good start and the win is far from guaranteed at Wigan, where they have drawn on their last two visits. Arsenal also look too short at West Ham, who have shown strong home form so far.
Two home teams who could be worth a risk are Southampton against poor travellers Fulham and Swansea, who host Reading. Southampton in particular have shown plenty of attacking spirit and look worth backing on the handicap. Over 2.5 goals is a good bet too.
West Brom, Southampton, Blackpool, Brighton, Stevenage, Mallorca.
1 West Brom home win The Hawthorns is fast developing into a fortress
2 Southampton on handicap Capable of better now their fixture list has eased
3 Brighton on handicap Five wins out of seven against teams outside the top 10
4 Stevenage home win Good bet to build on last week’s excellent victory
5 Mallorca home win First-rate chance against poor travellers
TODAY (10pm unless stated)
Manchester City v Sunderland (7:45pm), Swansea City v Reading, Chelsea v Norwich City, Wigan Athletic v Everton, West Bromwich Albion v Queens Park Rangers, West Ham United v Arsenal (12:30am Sun)
Southampton v Fulham (8:30pm), Liverpool v Stoke City (10pm), Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa (10pm), Newcastle United v Manchester United (11pm)