Manchester teams can open Premier League gap
City play Newcastle and United meet Sunderland in games they should win to consolidate spots
With Chelsea on a leave of absence from the English Premier League, the two Manchester leviathans are presented with the opportunity to open an even more significant gap on their nearest pursuers this weekend.
City are first to play, away to Newcastle, as they seek to bounce back from last week's home defeat by United. That was City's first loss of the season and their record against bottom-half teams this season (six wins and a draw from seven games) suggests they should get back on track.
Under Roberto Mancini, City have won all four matches against Newcastle home and away, including the high-pressure 2-0 victory at St James' Park in their penultimate game of last season. On current form, today's visit does not look anywhere near as difficult for City.
Alan Pardew is experiencing the first mini-crisis of his reign at Newcastle, who have fallen from the dizzy heights of last season's fifth place to a current 14th, only two points clear of the relegation zone.
The primary reason for the slump appears to be the team's involvement in the Europa League, compounded by a long injury list. Injuries alone can't be the cause of the difficulty, because Pardew's side maintained their impressive momentum last season even in the absence of key players such as Fabricio Coloccini.
This season Newcastle have not coped so well, losing five of the nine league games in which Coloccini was absent, and the extra demands of the Europa League have been a burden. Five of their seven league defeats have followed European games.
If that is a valid excuse for Newcastle, it is possible they may improve now they have a two-month break from the competition and City may just find this is a bad time to visit St James' Park. At the odds, the champions make no appeal.
On paper United should have fewer problems at home to Sunderland, another north-east team who have performed below expectations this season. Martin O'Neill's team had a welcome 3-0 win at home to Reading on Tuesday and that should give them some confidence.
United away is a much tougher prospect but Sunderland have been solid enough on the road, drawing three out of five against top-half teams, and this fixture is usually tight. Since Sunderland returned to the top division, United have won only two of the 10 meetings by more than a goal and seven have had under 2.5 goals.
A similar outcome would be no surprise and while there appears little edge for punters, a 1-0 or 2-0 win for United may be worth a shot.
The rest of the Premier League's big six are also short odds. Liverpool probably are the safest bet at home to Aston Villa but Tottenham look a risk against Swansea, who have lost only two of their past 12 in all competitions.
Having been knocked out of the Capital One Cup in midweek by Bradford, Arsenal are not a team to trust, even at second-bottom Reading. The Gunners have won only two of their eight away games and Reading look capable of a big result against one of the top teams, even if they have yet to quite manage it.
With the meeting between the two clubs in the Capital One Cup having produced a 4-4 at the end of 90 minutes and a 7-5 victory for Arsenal in extra-time, over 2.5 goals looks a decent bet.
As so often, the best bets lie away from the big names. West Brom's difficult patch means they are better odds than expected at home to West Ham, who have made a solid return to the Premier League but are low scorers on the road.
That makes the Hammers vulnerable against West Brom, who have won 10 of their past 15 league games at home. Three of the exceptions were against top-five teams.
Another decent bet are Stoke, who last season suffered from being involved in the Europa League but are on the up again now they can concentrate on home affairs. Tony Pulis' side have a decent chance of continuing their revival with victory tonight over Everton and at least look a solid bet on the handicap in their Britannia fortress.
Fulham are also worth considering on the handicap at QPR, who are still looking for their first win, while Norwich have a good chance at decent odds at home to Wigan.
The worry with Norwich has been their low scores, which has made them hard to beat but a risk as a win bet, but they showed a different side to their game in last week's 4-3 win at Swansea.
1 West Brom home win Form at the Hawthorns remains superb despite recent blips
2 Middlesbrough home win Good odds for such a strong home side
3 Leyton Orient home win Ninth straight win beckons against secondbottom Scunthorpe
4 Getafe home win Should outscore Osasuna’s poor attack
5 Werder Bremen home win Have won all four at home to teams outside the top six
West Brom, Fulham, Middlesbrough, Leyton Orient, Brentford, Getafe, Werder Bremen
11pm unless stated: Newcastle United v Manchester City (8:45pm), Liverpool v Aston Villa, Manchester United v Sunderland, Norwich City v Wigan Athletic, Queens Park Rangers v Fulham, Stoke City v Everton.
Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea City (9:30pm), West Bromwich Albion v West Ham United (midnight).
Reading v Arsenal (4am, Tues).