Chelsea-Manchester United expected to be goal-fest
Chelsea and Man United in superb scoring form but both defences are looking decidedly shaky
Petr Cech expects to be involved in plenty of action for Chelsea against Manchester United tomorrow in the big match of the English Premier League weekend programme, which brings together not just the top two in the table but also the two highest-scoring teams.
"The score could be quite entertaining," Cech said and he's probably right, judging by the recent history between the two sides. Last season they shared 10 goals, with United winning 3-1 at Old Trafford before forcing a 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge despite trailing by three goals with just over half an hour to play.
Those goal-packed thrillers were nothing out of the ordinary, as seven of the last 10 meetings between the sides in the Premier League have had over 2.5 goals. The emphasis on goals has developed since Jose Mourinho left Chelsea five years ago, which appears to be no coincidence, and there are other signs that suggest a continuation of the trend tomorrow.
A key factor is that both sides are in excellent scoring form, with 40 goals between them in the league at an average of 2.5 per game for each team. United leading the way for goals scored is nothing new, but it is refreshing to see Chelsea almost matching them this season.
Both teams could have done with some repairs in defence, but instead their summer spending power was directed to the acquisition of attacking talent.
United's big money went on Robin van Persie - who has a good record at Stamford Bridge, with five goals in four appearances - while Chelsea's major investment in Eden Hazard has already paid dividends.
The holes in both defences are growing ever more obvious. United are making a nasty habit of conceding first, as they did again in the midweek Champions League game against Braga, while Chelsea's defensive record is questionable against elite teams.
Chelsea have kept only one clean sheet in seven games this season in Europe or against teams from the top half of the Premier League, which suggests their goals-against column gives a misleading impression of their defensive capabilities.
Home advantage for Chelsea gives them the edge as the handicap pick, but the advice is to back over 2.5 goals and sit back to enjoy the action.
Everton v Liverpool, the other big match of the weekend, is renowned as a lower-scoring affair and that's mainly down to David Moyes' tactics. The Everton manager knows his best chance of success against the big six is to keep it tight, as he did for a 1-0 win over Manchester United in the first home game of the season.
That was a rare victory for Everton over a big-six side but the low score was expected - their last eight home games against the big six all had under 2.5 goals. Everton won four of those games (all to nil) and lost the four in which they conceded.
That has also tended to be the pattern in Merseyside derbies, with Everton setting out to keep a clean sheet and having little idea of a plan B if they concede.
The last five league and cup meetings at Goodison Park have had under 2.5 goals and that looks likely again.
With Everton in better form than Liverpool this season, the temptation is to go for the hosts on the handicap despite that over-reliance on a clean sheet.
The best bets in the Premier League are Fulham and Tottenham - and that's recognition of their decent form this season. Backing Fulham on the road has been folly in recent years but this season they have taken their opportunities both home and away, with three wins and a draw from four games overall against current bottom-half teams.
Martin Jol's team dip back into that pool again tonight and have a good chance at second-bottom Reading.
Caution was advised with Tottenham in the early weeks of the season but now is the time to back them on their visit to third-bottom Southampton. Tottenham have taken 10 points out of 12 against current bottom-six sides and the hosts are likely to give them plenty of chances.
1 Fulham on handicap A safer bet on the road these days
2 Tottenham away win A goal-fest awaits at Southampton
3 Cardiff home win Strong home side are the bet of the weekend
4 Crawley home win League One high-flyers another good home bet
5 Levante home win Have won last three games to nil
Fulham, Tottenham, Cardiff, Crawley, Malaga, Levante, Mainz.
TODAY (10pm unless stated)
Aston Villa v Norwich City (7.45pm), Reading v Fulham, Stoke City v Sunderland, Wigan Athletic v West Ham United, Arsenal v Queens Park Rangers, Manchester City v Swansea City (12.30am Sun)
Everton v Liverpool (9.30pm), Newcastle United v West Bromwich Albion (11pm), Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur (11pm), Chelsea v Manchester United (12am Mon)