Red Devils likely to easily overcome Villa
Newcastle rate as best bet in Premiership, while Chelsea should cope with Liverpool challenge
Manchester United are top of the English Premier League for the first time this season and they will hope to extend their lead this weekend when they visit Aston Villa, while tough games await Manchester City and Chelsea tomorrow.
United's record against Villa is remarkable and, on current form, it is difficult to see a reversal of the trend. Since the turn of the millennium, United have won 24 of their 30 meetings with Villa and the sole defeat came at Old Trafford three years ago during Martin O'Neill's Villa reign that turned the sleeping giants of the West Midlands into a consistent top-six side.
Villa are far from that status now and another defeat is likely. United have won nine and drawn four of their league visits to Villa Park since 2000 (two of the draws were later in O'Neill's reign when they had become a top-six side).
Paul Lambert's side have shown signs of progress with a Capital One Cup run and last week's 1-0 victory at Sunderland, but they have taken only two points from six games against top-half teams and have not kept a clean sheet in any of those matches.
United have won eight out of nine when scoring this season and it is significant their only match with under 2.5 goals came when they were shut out by Everton on the opening weekend. With Villa unlikely to keep a clean sheet, over 2.5 goals looks the best bet.
Two big-six showdowns top the bill tomorrow. Manchester City v Tottenham is the early kick-off and it promises to be entertaining based on last season's head-to-heads, which were won 5-1 and 3-2 by City. Both teams have scored in nine of their 10 matches this season and Tottenham in particular have had difficulty keeping a clean sheet, which suggests another high-scoring game is on the cards. Another factor pointing that way is that seven of the nine meetings this season between big-six clubs have had over 2.5 goals.
That statistic suggests Chelsea v Liverpool, tomorrow's late match, can also be expected to go over 2.5 goals. Three of last season's four meetings in league and cup had over 2.5 goals, although that went against the norm for this fixture (the previous 11 Premier League meetings all had under 2.5 goals).
Chelsea are close to rating a good bet for the win, but they fall a little short of a firm recommendation owing to their recent dip in league form and Liverpool's latent potential. Liverpool's main problem remains their home form, while on the road they have lost only one out of four, but they will also have to improve against better opposition, having failed to win in six games against top-half sides this season. Luis Suarez can hurt any opposition, however, and he could do enough to get Liverpool something from the game.
Newcastle rate the best bet in the Premier League, even though visitors West Ham deserve considerable respect after making a solid return to the top flight. Newcastle have won 10 out of 15 at home in 2012 (two of the failures were against the Manchester clubs) and they are decent odds to grind out a win in what could be an attritional contest.
West Brom remain a team to follow, home and away, until their strong start to the season shows signs of fading. That hasn't happened yet and they look the best handicap bet in the Premier League on their trip to Wigan.
Southampton have been the team to follow for goals, with an average of 4.2 goals per game, and they could go over 2.5 goals for the ninth time in 11 games at home to Swansea. The visitors got off to a flying start with a 5-0 win at QPR on the opening day but they have lost every away game since and this is a decent chance for Southampton's exciting attack to get them a much-needed win.
Reading also have a decent chance at home to Norwich, who haven't kept a clean sheet in their last 38 away games - the longest run in Premier League history.
Everton have shortened up too much and, while it is hard to back Sunderland with great confidence, the suspicion remains that Martin O'Neill's side are better than they have shown so far.
Arsenal v Fulham has no edge for punters, with the Gunners likely winners but lower home scorers than usual at the moment.
- Newcastle home win Good chance at the odds despite tough opposition
- Cardiff home win Have to be backed until they stop winning at home
- Charlton on handicap Decent chance to build on midweek win over Cardiff
- Tranmere on handicap League One leaders are still underrated
- Vallecano home win Good odds against poor travellers Celta Vigo
Newcastle, Blackpool, Cardiff, Burnley, Charlton, Tranmere, Moenchengladbach, Vallecano, Lazio.
Today (11pm unless stated)
Reading v Norwich City, Everton v Sunderland, Stoke City v Queens Park Rangers, Wigan Athletic v West Bromwich Albion, Arsenal v Fulham, Southampton v Swansea City, Aston Villa v Manchester United (1.30am Sun)
Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur (9.30pm), Newcastle United v West Ham United (11pm), Chelsea v Liverpool (12am Mon)