Premier League bets of the weekend: Leicester City are on the brink of greatness but face a tough task at Old Trafford
Jamie Vardy’s suspension could be the difference as the Foxes go to Manchester United aiming to land the Premier League title
Leicester could clinch a remarkable title triumph with victory at Manchester United tomorrow night, which would be the fifth time in Premier League history that the crucial fixture has taken place at Old Trafford. On most of the previous occasions, of course, it was United who tasted success but this time they might have to swallow seeing another club take the title on their turf.
If it is all over this weekend, the trophy will not be presented until Leicester’s home fixture next Saturday but there would be symbolic significance in sealing the title success at United’s home.
Only a win will make Leicester champions as they walk off the pitch tomorrow night, although their wait might be delayed only until Monday night if Tottenham do not achieve the required result (at least a draw, but probably a win) in their difficult away match at Chelsea.
Leicester’s task at United is far from easy. The hosts have the best record in head-to-heads between the top teams in the Premier League and their current form is strong as they pursue their own target of moving up to the top four and claiming a place in next season’s Champions League.
If United’s record against the lower-class teams in the Premier League had been better, Louis van Gaal’s side would be there already and might even have been one of the challengers to Leicester’s title charge. But United have given up at least nine points to the current top-four teams when it comes to matches against sides from the bottom half of the table.
The difference between United and Leicester in that respect is 18 points and, as the overall gap between them is 19 points, that tells you all you need to know about why United have struggled to keep pace.
It is different against the better teams, with United top of the mini-league in games involving only the top eight. Van Gaal’s side have lost just three out of 12 in that category, which might suggest that the United coach likes the certainty of being able to plan for the way the big teams play but can be caught out by the unpredictability of lesser teams raising their game against United and going ‘off plan’.
That unpredictability and passion is part of the beauty of the Premier League and perhaps it is an aspect that Van Gaal has struggled to cope with. In Leicester, those characteristics have combined most brilliantly to create one of the best stories in English football’s long history and it will be interesting to see whether Van Gaal can succeed where other illustrious coaches have failed by stifling and unravelling their style of play.
The reverse fixture ended 1-1 and was notable as Jamie Vardy’s record 11th consecutive scoring game for Leicester. He is suspended for tomorrow’s match and his absence may weigh more heavily on Leicester this time than it did in the 4-0 home win over Swansea last weekend.
The most crucial factor might be how the United strikers perform. Van Gaal’s side have six wins and a draw from the seven matches in which they have scored against top-eight opponents, which suggests their win chance hinges on that factor.
United have been much more threatening in attack since Van Gaal hit upon the Rashford-Martial-Lingard combination, with seven scoring games out of nine with that trio in the starting line-up. Leicester clearly have an excellent defence, but United might have the edge in attack on this occasion and, all things considered, they are not bad odds for the win.
Another positive point is that United have won seven of their last nine at home, with two draws, and have not had a blank at Old Trafford since their last defeat, 1-0 against Southampton in late January.
Victory for United would enhance their chances of a Champions League place but, in terms of the title race, the result at Old Trafford might turn out to be academic because Tottenham are far from assured of taking anything from their visit to Chelsea.
The hosts are unlikely to ease off in a London derby and, with only two defeats out of 17 in the Premier League under Guus Hiddink, will be tough to beat. With Tottenham likely to miss Dele Alli, Chelsea are the handicap pick.
The team selections for Manchester City and Liverpool on Sunday night will be worth examining, with both clubs facing crucial European ties in midweek. The respective hosts in the Premier League games are Southampton and Swansea, who both have the recent form to make them worth considering at sizeable odds.
Southampton, Bristol City, Rotherham.
Manchester United home win
Could delay the Leicester title party
Chelsea on handicap
Can end any lingering hopes for Tottenham
Brentford home win
In form and worth a bet at the odds
Darmstadt on handicap
Solid chance in relegation clash
Valencia home win
Revived hosts might face a weakened team
League visits to Chelsea without success for Tottenham