Slip-ups key to swinging fortunes in title chase
Pellegrini's men can't afford to make a mistake at Goodison, given Everton's fine home record
Another week, another "title decider" in the English Premier League. Just when it seemed Liverpool had opened a telling gap at the top, along came Jose Mourinho's Chelsea to throw the race wide open again.
Now the advantage appears to lie with Manchester City, but tonight they face their most difficult remaining game, away at Everton, and it seems to fall into the "must win" category.
Those who thought Liverpool's victory over City was a decisive result may well have been wrong, along with anyone who believed City had blown their chances.
But another slip by City tonight would hand back the initiative to Liverpool, whose next game is away to Crystal Palace on Monday night.
Manuel Pellegrini's team will have to perform at their best to take three points at Everton, who have not lost at home this season against a top-seven side (three wins and two draws).
Overall, Everton have lost just two out of 17 at Goodison Park and they rank as the fourth-best home team in the Premier League.
The biggest question mark against City remains their away form against the better teams, with just three wins out of eight on their visits to top-half sides. It is also worth noting that they have yet to beat any of the top six teams ranked on home form, with two defeats and two draws.
Everton lost 3-2 to Palace at home last month, while City were impressive in winning 2-0 away to Palace last weekend. A similar powerhouse performance, especially from Yaya Toure, might do it for City.
Pellegrini's team are no value, however, and Everton rate the pick on the handicap, as the Palace result looks the anomaly in their home record and they were quickly back on song to beat Manchester United 2-0 in the next home match.
Unless City lose, Liverpool will also have a "must win" assignment at Palace and that will not be easy. Chelsea lost at Palace on March 29, which was a major blow to their title challenge.
They've shown an ability to beat the better teams and Liverpool's tendency to concede will offer Palace hope. Under Tony Pulis, they have won seven and drawn one of the eight home games in which they have scored.
Liverpool's reliance on outscoring the opposition could be risky against such a good defence and the odds for an away win are too short. Under 2.5 goals looks the best bet.
Chelsea need both of their rivals to slip up more than once if they are to lift the title, but at least they should stay in the hunt with a home win over Norwich.
But Mourinho seems set to end up without a trophy in his first season back in English football.
It will be interesting to see if the "'need to win" has any effect this weekend, particularly in Newcastle v Cardiff and Stoke v Fulham.
The hosts are both mid-table with nothing to play for, while the visitors cannot match them on form, but have an urgent need for points.
Stoke should be a good bet on form and it is a question of whether to trust them, while Newcastle are a different case because their form has fallen apart since Yohan Cabaye's sale to PSG in January.
Although there is little positive in Cardiff's form, they could be worth chancing simply because opposing Newcastle has been such a good policy in recent weeks.
Tottenham are still chasing a European place and, having won nine out of 12 away to teams outside the top seven, so they rate a good bet at West Ham.
Virtually safe, the Hammers have lost 10 out of 12 against top-seven teams, including all six at home, and the stats suggest they will have problems if the visitors score.
Under Tim Sherwood, Tottenham have won five and drawn two of their seven scoring games on the road.
Hull have a decent shot on the handicap at Aston Villa and Swansea are bigger odds than they should be at home to Southampton.
Swansea, Hull, Leicester, Sheffield United