Manchester City a good bet in FA Cup semi-final
Manchester City are the handicap pick against Chelsea in FA Cup, and are likely to meet Wigan
Chelsea and Manchester City, the best two cup teams of recent years in England, go head to head tomorrow in an FA Cup semi-final that will decide which team will start hot favourites for the final on May 11.
Only one of the past six finals has been won by a team other than Chelsea or City, with Chelsea having taken four and City ending their long trophy drought when they triumphed two years ago.
Tomorrow's match is hard to call. Chelsea's excellent FA Cup record has been well documented [23 wins and six draws since their last defeat in 90-minute play] but City's is equally impressive under Roberto Mancini with 12 wins and only one defeat from 17 in 90-minute play. That sole defeat came against Manchester United last season after they had been seriously weakened by Vincent Kompany's 12th-minute dismissal.
City have been at least the equal of Chelsea in the Premier League in each of Mancini's full seasons and are ahead of them again this season, which entitles them to favouritism. In addition, Mancini's City have won five and lost only two in eight meetings with Chelsea. City are the handicap pick.
The other semi-final is less glamorous but Wigan are an appealing bet against Millwall, who are 18 places below them in the league rankings. Wigan have won four of their past six Premier League games, which is much stronger form than Millwall's.
The relegation battle will be the main focus in the Premier League and the prospects are bleak for Stoke and Sunderland, two of the teams that are being sucked into the mire.
Stoke host Manchester United, having taken only five points from 12 games this year. The passionate Britannia crowd has started to turn against them, having seen only one win in the past seven home games, and even in Stoke's better days United had them worked out.
United's record in the Premier League is eight wins and one draw out of nine and the only sliver of form that gives Stoke hope is that they have lost just one of eight at home to top-half teams this season.
With United having the title almost wrapped up despite Monday's defeat by City, a low-scoring win (1-0 or 2-0) looks most likely. Under 2.5 goals is a solid bet.
Sunderland visit Newcastle in a crucial north-east derby. Newcastle are slowly dragging themselves to safety, mainly because of four straight home wins, while Sunderland have lost their past four away games.
Most of Newcastle's poor home results came early in the season but they have won four of their most recent five at home to bottom-half teams and look capable of leaving Sunderland in deeper trouble.
Southampton, at slightly shorter odds than Newcastle, also look a decent home chance.
Their home form under Mauricio Pochettino is good apart from the defeat by QPR and, as long as they do not let their recent standards slip, another victory beckons against poor travellers West Ham.
Aston Villa, whose only defeats in their past eight games have been against big-six teams (with four wins and a draw in the others), are also worth considering at home to Fulham.
Arsenal face an important four days. While Chelsea and Tottenham are both inactive in the Premier League, the Gunners have home games against Norwich and Everton that could catapult them into a clear third place by the time their two rivals for a Champions League spot return to the fray.
Beating Norwich should not be a problem for Arsenal, who have won seven of eight, with one draw, at home to teams in the bottom half of the table. They have won four of those eight games by two goals or more and look capable of covering the handicap in their current form, which reads seven straight wins against teams outside the big six.
Whether Arsenal will be able to follow up against Everton on Tuesday is open to question on this season's form, as they have won only two out of seven at home to top-half sides and Everton's 2-2 at Tottenham on Sunday means they have lost only two out of eight against the five teams above them in the table.
Everton, however, have taken only two points away to Arsenal in 11 league visits under David Moyes, although only one of the past six games has had more than a one-goal margin to Arsenal and both draws have been in that period.
With Everton likely to pose a significant threat, over 2.5 goals looks the best bet on Tuesday.
Wigan, Newcastle, Malaga, Southampton, Barnsley, Brighton, Schalke, Sociedad
TODAY (10pm unless stated)
Premier League: Arsenal v Norwich City, Aston Villa v Fulham, Everton v Queens Park Rangers, Reading v Liverpool, Southampton v West Ham United
FA Cup semi-final: Millwall v Wigan (12.15am Sun)
Premier League: Newcastle United v Sunderland (7pm), Stoke City v Manchester United (9.05pm)
FA Cup semi-final: Chelsea v Manchester City (11pm)
1 Wigan win A class above semi-final opponents Millwall
2 Newcastle home win The pick of the bets in the Premier League
3 Brighton on handicap Solid form against teams below them
4 Schalke home win In good form and worth chancing at the odds
5 Malaga home win Good value to bounce back from Champions League blow