Thu, Dec 6, 5:04am by Kevin Pitstock
The English Premier League’s match week sixteen features the most heated rivalry in England, as Manchester United and Manchester City get together for the first edition of this season’s Manchester Derby. For years, Manchester City was dismissed as nothing more than “noisy neighbours”, as they talked of winning trophies and they spoke of United as rivals, yet they were unable to deliver trophies, win the league, or pose much of a threat to their bigger and more successful counterparts.
Under Roberto Mancini, times have certainly changed. City found their way to the top of the table by virtue of a last second goal in the final match of the season. In what was the most exciting season ending fixtures, United emerged victorious in their final match. After United’s win, they turned their attention to the City – QPR match and were convinced the League title was theirs. However, two late goals against a shorthanded QPR side literally ripped the trophy from United’s clutches and gave the “other” side of Manchester something to celebrate. This week’s Manchester Derby marks the first meeting of the two sides since City have lifted the trophy.
City come into the fixture on the back of a disappointing one-nil loss on Tuesday against German Champion’s (Borussia Dortmund). This defeat left City out in the cold for both the Champion’s League and the Europa League, as they finished at the bottom of their group. Third place teams enter the Europa League, which City now have no part of. Considering they were bounced from Europe, they can turn their undivided attention to being successful on a domestic level.
Whilst the Derby is the most anticipated match of the weekend, we do have a full fixture on hand for Match Week 16. Arsenal have yet another challenging match in front of their increasingly pessimistic home supporters, whilst Southampton and Reading meet in an effort to keep things exciting in the relegation zone. West Ham and Liverpool get together in London for a match that will surely be full of incident and Rafa Benitez seeks out his first League win as Chelsea boss a few days after he learns his side’s European fate.
Tenth place Arsenal host fifth place West Bromwich Albion in a match that Arsenal’s morale cannot afford to lose. Sure, we are far away from the end of the season, and yes the Arsenal fan base may be overreacting to their side’s horrible form. We also admit that the criticism directed towards Arsene Wenger may be a bit premature and slightly excessive. However, whilst conceding such points, Arsenal are clearly in trouble despite what their manager claims. For Arsenal, their season hangs in the balance of success in December’s fixtures – especially against “top ten” sides. Fortunately for the Gunners, West Brom come into the fixture off two straight losses.
For Arsenal, their key to success will again be in possession of the ball. Swansea out-possessed Arsenal last week in the Swan’s shock two-nil win and without the majority of the ball, Arsenal will again hang their heads in shame. West Brom mustered a single goal in their collective two losses. During this drought, Shane Long has been a non-factor. Strikers Shane Long will be paired with either Peter Odemwingie or Romelu Lukaku and the combination must work to frustrate a suspect Arsenal defence who will be without Laurent Koscielny in the back. Whilst good news from the Physio’s table is typically well received by supporting fans, Gunner’s supporters will surely be worried with news that Arsenal defender Andre Santos should be available this weekend.
As was the case in the Swansea match, the bookies are giving Arsenal too much credit for having the advantage on their home grounds. Arsenal have been defeated at home twice this season, whilst giving away draws in two additional matches and winning three of seven matches at the Emirates. IASBet has Arsenal at 1.50, whilst CentreBet has them at 1.44. Neither odds justify a bet on an Arsenal win. West Brom have earned two wins and two draws on seven away matches.
Stoke City have captured points in their last two road trips. Historically, they have demonstrated the inability to earn points away from home, whilst being virtually unbeatable on their own grounds. Even more impressive is that Stoke’s previous two road games were against West Ham United (notoriously tough at home) and West Bromwich Albion (another tough home team). Stoke are on a five match unbeaten streak and have captured thirteen points in their last six league matches.
Villa have not lost in their last three outings and while they have not lost, they have not managed more than one goal per match in their previous three games either. In order to win, Villa must score more than one goal, but even that single goal will prove extremely difficult against a stingy Stoke defence who concedes less than one goal per match on average. A draw seems the most likely outcome, however, Stoke’s current form tips them to the outright win.
A win for the Saints opens the possibility of a temporary escape from the drop zone, while a Reading win will not provide the Rangers with relief from relegation zone pressures. Reading have not produced a win away from home and they are losers of three straight. Despite their three consecutive losses, they remained “in the match” from whistle to whistle. In their past six road matches, as well as their last six overall, there has not been more than a one goal difference in the score line. Unfortunately, this fact is heavily priced into the markets. This match is best bet live, placing “in running” bets consistent with the score line remaining within one goal leaning towards either side.
Just like fellow London club Arsenal, Chelsea suffer in both form and morale. Fernando Torres has not scored in 11.5 “game hours” and counting, whilst Rafa Benitez is desperate for his first win as Chelsea boss. Whilst a Chelsea win will not silence the Benitez critics, it will serve as a small, yet must needed first step in returning to form. Sunderland are 17th on the table and have managed a single win (on four points in their last six). Despite four draws, Chelsea have not won in their last six matches.
Look for Chelsea to come out “swinging” and take it to a struggling Sunderland side.
Michu singlehandedly shut the lights out at the Emirates in the Swans domination of Arsenal last week. Twelfth place Norwich may pose a more difficult challenge for Swansea, as Norwich have not lost in two months. Their last defeat came in Game Week seven in the form of a 4-1 beating by Chelsea.
QPR have improved, playing more disciplined football under Harry Redknapp. QPR have earned draws in each of their two matches since Harry took the reigns. Wigan have dropped four matches at the DW. Look for QPR to book the full three points, much to the delight of old ‘Arry.
In the “must watch” Premier League match of the week, United travel across town to the Etihad in a battle of the top of the table in the 164th edition of the Manchester Derby. City come into this fixture off a disappointing defeat in Germany and with a day’s longer rest. However, United play in the Champion’s League at home, which means the teams will be about “equally rested” in terms of turnaround. However, United have already wrapped up their group, so they have the benefit of playing a “young” squad against visiting Cluj.
The Manchester Derbies make many a memory. United have won 68 times, whilst City have emerged victorious 45 times in the history of the Derby. We surely remember the Wayne Rooney overhead spectacular from 2011, which gave United the win in the closing minutes. In 2009, Michael Owen scored a game winner in the 95th minute for the Red Devils. City have won the last two Derbies in league play, having defeated United 1-0 at the Etihad and 6-1 at Old Trafford. The 6-1 win was the first defeat for United in the 2011-12 campaign. Now, it is City who come into this fixture as the home and unbeaten side.
City have not impressed in all of their league matches, yet they seem to somehow “get it done”. United have found themselves quite frequently playing from behind due to missteps in the back. However, with the League’s most potent attack, United can score at will. On 8 career goals, Wayne Rooney is tied for third all time in Derby goals. Rooney comes up big in big matches like this and his productivity is key for United to take it to City. Additionally, City looked flustered in their 1-0 loss to Dortmund mid-week.
Dortmund pressured the City back four into mistake upon mistake and turnover upon turnover by pressing high up the pitch. Look for United to bring similar pressures in hopes of a City gift.
Everton have earned draws in each of their last three, whilst the Spurs have won each of their last three in very convincing fashion. Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe has netted a brace (2 goals in one match) in two of his last three matches. He has nine goals on the season. Everton standout Marouane Fellaini is one five goals for the season and has scored in each of the last two matches.
West Ham United come off a shock win against Chelsea in front of their home crowd with bubbles filling the air. Liverpool claimed a 1-0 victory against Southampton. In their 1-0 victory, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was held scoreless. In fact, he has not scored in his last two but is tied for the league lead on ten goals. He will not score in this match, as he is on a one match ban for accumulating five yellow cards.
West Ham are tough on their home ground, where they have won four straight. West Ham striker Carlton Cole opened his account last week with a goal against Chelsea. He is tipped to get the start against Liverpool.
Newcastle finally booked a win against Wigan, ending their winless drought. Fulham are on three points in their last six and they have gone from looking like contenders for a spot in Europe to substantially less than pretenders. Fulham have dropped two straight at home with losses to Tottenham and the less than impressive Sunderland. Look for Demba Ba to frustrate the home defence, while Fulham striker Dimitar Berbatov should do the same for his side.
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