Sunday looks set to be a dramatic day of Premier League action, with Liverpool travelling to Old Trafford before Arsenal host Manchester City as four of the biggest teams in English football face off. Thus, here we take a look at what the statistics suggest could be good wagers this weekend.
Manchester United vs Liverpool - Match Preview
A rampant Manchester United have stormed into a 7-point lead at the top of the Premier League, with their only real title rivals - City and potentially Chelsea - falling way behind in recent weeks as a result of United's form. The Red Devils have a points tally after 21 games of 52, which has only been bettered in two previous Premier League campaigns - Chelsea in 2005/06 with 58 and Utd themselves in 2006/07 with 53. On both occasions, each team went on to win the title by at least 6 points, and while Sir Alex Ferguson will be sure to keep his team focused so they don't throw away their lead like they did last season, they are undoubtedly huge favourites to triumph in May.
A derby against Liverpool this weekend provides yet more reason for Ferguson's players to be fired up to play, and in stating this week that it is still one of the biggest games in English football, Paul Scholes added even more fuel to the fire. Liverpool have won 5 of their last 7 games, but their season has been blighted by an inconsistency that has seen them struggle up to 8th, their highest position so far.
United, meanwhile, have won 8 of their last 9 Premier League games, drawing the only other game at Swansea, whilst also winning 9 out of 10 on home soil this term. What is more, Ferguson has overseen 8 wins in United's last 9 home games against the Merseyside club, 7 of which have come in the Premier League. In spite of Liverpool's slight upturn in form, there is good reason to back a home win, and at odds of 1.90 United are great value.
Interestingly, though, regardless of recent results between the teams, the rivals have been drawing at half time in each of their last 4 encounters, 3 of which have been 0-0 at the break. The sides tend to start in a cagey fashion when playing each other, before coming out to attack in the second half, and a bet on the teams to be drawing at half time gives a return of 2.40.
As for who might make the difference between the sides, much of the focus will be on talismanic forwards Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez. Both have been in fine fettle recently, with the Dutchman having netted 8 goals in his last 8 Premier League appearances and the Uruguayan bagging 5 in his last 4. Van Persie, though is certainly worth backing here.
The former Arsenal striker has a fantastic record against Liverpool, with 5 goals in his last 6 appearances against them, including memorable last goals in each of his last 2 games against them - a match-winning penalty at Anfield earlier this season and an incredible, controlled volley at the Emirates last term. He has scored the last goal in more Premier League games this season than any other player, doing so on 7 occasions, and he could be the man to provide the drama once again. With odds of 4.33 to score last this time around, van Persie could be worth a punt.
Arsenal vs Manchester City - Match Preview
At the Emirates later on Sunday, Arsenal face a Manchester City side that have dropped points in 4 of their last 9 league games, resulting in them falling off the pace at the top and in desperate need of a win to keep up the chase. Arsenal, meanwhile, drew at Southampton last time out to end a run of 4 successive wins that has ensured they are well and truly in the race for third.
In spite of these sides' positions among the league's elite and the vast array of attacking talent on show, games between the two have failed to produce many goals in recent years, with only 5 scored in their last 5 meetings in all competitions, and 5 in the last 6 at the Emirates. City's attack - not forgetting Arsenal's defence - have a huge part to play in that, failing to score a single goal in any of their last 5 league visits to the Emirates. Also, this time around the Manchester side will be without three of their key attacking players, with Aguero missing out through injury, Nasri suspended and Yaya Toure off at the African Cup of Nations, so they could well struggle in front of goal. All signs point to another low-scoring affair, and odds of 2.10 on under 2.5 goals are rather generous so should be snapped up.
In games where goals are hard to come by, often teams get frustrated, sometimes leading to players making rash challenges as their feelings get the better of them, and this fixture is no different. There have been 4 red cards in the last 5 Premier League meetings between the teams with 7 yellows dished out in this fixture last season. Arsenal have, however, picked up a league low of just 18 cards all season, a tiny 8 of which have come in 9 games on home soil. City may look to rough Arsenal up and while we may not necessarily see a lot of cards, the first caution could well go to the away side, who have got the first card in 4 of their last 5 games against Arsenal. At odds of 1.72 you get a decent return on a City player to be booked first.
With few goals in games between the two, it is hard to find any specific player to back, but given City's attacking absentees and their poor record at Arsenal in recent years, Arsenal may be well-placed to keep another clean sheet, which you could bet on at odds of 3.25. A better wager, though, could be to back Arsenal to repeat their achievement against City last season, when they won by one goal to nil. A 1-0 Arsenal win pays out at 10.0 and is certainly worth at least a second thought.