West Brom may upset Man United's march to Premier League title
Top-six team have a decent chance at cracking open Manchester's leaky defence at Old Trafford
One of the obstacles in the way of Manchester United's charge towards the English Premier League title might be the tougher run of home fixtures they face in the second half of the season and tonight brings the first of those when West Brom visit Old Trafford.
It is fair to say West Brom are a top-six side on merit at the halfway point of the season and one indicator of their new-found status is that they are joint-top of the mini-league between the top six sides with an average of 1.75 points per game - level with Everton in that category and ahead of the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Tottenham.
West Brom have lost only one out of four against the rest of the top six, whereas United have lost two out of four. The leaders have met only one top-six team at home and that ended in defeat (3-2 against Tottenham), which suggests they might have problems if their haphazard defending continues.
United have conceded 13 goals at Old Trafford, only six fewer than they let in at home during the whole of last season, and they have kept only two clean sheets in nine home games.
West Brom's strength is their form at the Hawthorns, but they have a good scoring record on the road and it is notable that they have lost only two out of 15 overall when scoring in the Premier League. That gives them a decent chance against United's leaky defence and the best bets are West Brom on the handicap and over 2.5 goals (10 of the 15 matches in which West Brom have scored have gone over that mark).
One of the best matches on tonight's programme is the early game between Sunderland and Tottenham. Martin O'Neill appears to have turned the corner with Sunderland, who have won three of their last four, and it is possible they could turn out to be a top-eight side. Tottenham are also bang on form, with only one defeat in nine since their 5-2 derby loss at Arsenal, and they set up well as a counter-attacking away side, which explains why only United have scored more away goals.
Despite a sneaking suspicion for a Tottenham win, over 2.5 goals looks the best bet.
Norwich don't give much away at home and could make life difficult for Manchester City, who look too short, while Newcastle are capable of upsetting Arsenal after their unlucky defeat at Old Trafford.
Stoke rate close to a good home bet against Southampton and under 2.5 goals is worth considering, but a more surprising home chance is Aston Villa against poor travellers Wigan. Villa's odds look too big, although there is clearly a risk as their confidence must have been rocked by this week's heavy defeats.
The standout bet in the Premier League is West Ham on the handicap away to Reading. The Hammers have won five out of seven against sides below them and will be the fresher team after sitting out Wednesday's programme.
The irresistible force of in-form Chelsea meets the immovable object of Everton's solid defence in tomorrow's big game at Goodison Park. It is an intriguing match-up, with Chelsea having smashed 23 goals to rack up five consecutive wins on English soil and Everton unbeaten in seven games, including tough fixtures against Manchester City, Tottenham and Arsenal.
Everton, in fact, have lost only six out of 40 in the Premier League in the whole of 2012 and their home record in this calendar year is 12 wins, five draws and just two defeats. One of the two losses came right at the start of 2012, against soon-to-be-relegated Bolton, but their form really picked up from there on and Arsenal, in March, are the only other team to have left Goodison with three points this year.
Chelsea lost 2-0 at Goodison in February and, although they won there earlier last season in the Carling Cup, their last away victory against Everton in the league was in April 2008.
Ending Everton's 13-match unbeaten run at Goodison would be the biggest marker yet by Rafa Benitez's Chelsea, but at the odds Everton are preferred on the handicap. David Moyes' team are one of only two sides to have stopped Manchester United scoring in the league this season - the other is Norwich, who lost only 1-0 to Chelsea on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Liverpool are not bad odds to win at QPR considering they have taken seven points out of nine away to teams below them in the table.
- Aston Villa home win Take a big drop in class against fast-sinking Wigan
- West Ham on handicap Solid record against the struggling teams
- Blackburn on handicap Away form hasn't been the problem
- Swindon away win Excellent bet to extend Colchester's losing run to seven
- Notts County on handicap The only team in England still unbeaten on the road
Aston Villa, West Ham, Blackburn, Swindon, Doncaster, Notts County.
Today (11pm unless stated)
Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur (8.45pm), Norwich City v Manchester City, Reading v West Ham United, Stoke City v Southampton, Aston Villa v Wigan Athletic, Fulham v Swansea City, Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion, Arsenal v Newcastle United (1.30am Sun)
Everton v Chelsea 9:30pm, Queens Park Rangers v Liverpool midnight