Hypothetically, if a team leading the Premier League by 8 points, with just one home defeat in 14 games, had a home fixture against the club second from bottom, you might be lucky to see odds of 1/5 (1.2 in decimal) for a home win. This is precisely the situation in the Championship this weekend when Bristol City visit Cardiff. However, due to the unpredictability premium afforded to Championship games, a home win can be backed at slightly better than 1.5. As I’ve just mentioned, Cardiff’s comfortable position at top the table has been built on their very strong home form, where they’ve won 12 of their 14 matches (perhaps worryingly, the only teams to take points from the Cardiff City Stadium are Bristol City’s fellow strugglers Ipswich and Peterborough). A quirk of the fixture list means that Cardiff have played just one league game at home so far in 2013 and they’ll be looking forward to playing in front of their vocal home crowd again. While Bristol City have been in good form at home more recently, their away form has been poor, without an away point since before Christmas and I expect them to come away from Cardiff empty handed.
70 pts – Cardiff win @ 1.56 – WON
Liverpool vs Swansea:
Liverpool’s last two outings have yielded no points and some woeful finishing. Both games they missed guilt-edged opportunities and invariably should have come away from both with at least a point. Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard were both guilty of glaring misses and both will be keen to make amends in this lone Premiership outing for the weekend. Brendan Rogers will be getting plenty of stick from the away end, not least because they’re going to Wembley next weekend and Liverpool look destined for mid-table mediocrity, which will surely give him an extra incentive to get the reds fired up and back to winning ways. Daniel Sturridge, who’s made a bright start to his Liverpool career, should be re-installed to add the extra fire power they need. Swansea will undoubtedly be looking ahead to the very winnable game they’ve got to propel them to a first trophy in their history and a guaranteed place in Europe’s second tier competition next year. No-one wants a booking or an injury and I can’t see anything but a Liverpool win.
70 Pts – Liverpool Win @ 1.57 – WON
The Human Toothpick:
Wales vs. England as Cardiff’s nearest English rivals cross the Severn bridge and take on the Championship table toppers. Cardiff have been unbelievably consistent over the years, in a league that seems to be getting harder and harder…and they’ll be hoping that they can finally shake their ‘run in’ hoodoo and join their Welsh neighbours in the Prem next season. Goals have slightly dried up for the Bluebirds over the last few games, and that could be a worry here – but by all accounts Bristol are still conceding plenty of chances, despite their upturn in form over recent weeks. Cardiff (like Swansea before them) are normally imperious at home and with Frazier Campbell increasingly adding match fitness starting to link up with the ever-effective Craig Bellamy, I think Cardiff should have enough here. Home win.
35 points – Cardiff Win – 1.57 – WON
With a very tough draw against Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League, the FA Cup represents Arsenal’s best chance of silverware this season. Wenger will probably need to juggle his pack for this 5th round tie with the visit of Bayern only a few days away and with the likes of Wilshere and Walcott likely to be warming the bench on Saturday, this might be a closely fought match. Arsenal have scraped through their last two Premier League games by a single goal while Blackburn have enjoyed a turn round in form that has included 3 clean sheets in their last 5 games. I don’t think Arsene will want any extra games in their already busy run-in and will, therefore, look to get this tie won at the first attempt. The 3/1 on offer for an Arsenal win by a single goal looks attractive.
10 pts – Arsenal to win by 1 @ 4 – LOST
Chelsea vs Brentford:
Chelsea justified my faith in them last weekend with a comfortable home win over Wigan. Since then they’ve also managed a confidence boosting away win at Sparta Prague which should see them through to the next round of the Europa League. They’re back in action relatively quickly with their 4th round replay against Brentford kicking off at midday on Sunday and while they should thump the League One side they may be a bit sluggish to start with following their long journey back to London. One man who should have plenty of energy is Demba Ba, who will come back into the team on Sunday and must fancy his chances at the sharp end of Chelsea’s attack. I think he’s got a great chance of opening the scoring in this one but am happy not to be greedy and will take the each way odds of him being one of the first 5 scorers just in case someone pips him to the first goal.
5 points e/w – Demba Ba to score first @ 3.6 – LOST
(e/w 1/3 odds places 1,2,3,4,5)
‘Blue is the colour’ acca:
As mentioned at length in my previous FA Cup weekend picks, my only strategy in the early rounds is to look for managers who simply must have a decent run in order to placate their fans and owners, and will therefore select something close to their strongest XIs. This weekend is no different with Arsenal, Everton, Chelsea and Man City the remaining teams with just the FA Cup to play for domestically. Leaving Arsenal aside this time, I’m combining the three ‘blues’ to progress at the first time of asking.
10 pts – Chelsea, Everton and Man City to win @ 1.78 – LOST
Liverpool vs Swansea:
30 Pts – Liverpool Win (-1 Handicap) @ 2.3 – WON
The Human Toothpick:
The Steve Bruce juggernaut continues to gather pace at the KC stadium –with Hull now up to 2nd, 3 points clear of 3rd placed Leicester. Bruce’s Egyptian duo of Gedo and Ahmed elmohamady seem key to their run in chances – and their international pedigree could prove the difference to those around them. Charlton meanwhile continue their roller-coaster season, albeit now probably safe from any relegation worries – no mean feat in this league. Powell’s men have thrown away winning positions in their last 3 -something which tends to play on player’s minds -esp against a Hull side that is unlikely to take their foot off the gas given their position. My only concern is that the Addicks seem to reserve their best form for away days – but nonetheless I think Hull will edge this one.
20 points – Hull win – 1.82 – WON
Arsenal vs. Blackburn
Interesting cup tie this one: with Arsenal undoubtedly having one eye on their home clash with Bayern on Tues, hosting a Blackburn side that are showing signs of finally settling down under 3rd manager of the season Mike Appleton. The degree to which Wenger decides to rest and rotate will surely have a bearing, with some changes potentially enforced with the resurgent Jack Wilshire almost certainly not risked, while Koscielny also looks like he could miss out. Vermalen’s return could be key – but I’m going to chance that it’s going to be a high scoring game. Ex-Town man Jordan Rhodes who (just) came good for me last week is in great form, and he’ll get support from recent loan signing DJ Campbell.
10 points – Both teams to score – 1.87 – LOST
Crystal Palace vs. Middlesbrough
Two teams that are bang in the mix for promotion this season (albeit probably via the play-off lottery) and I think both will be determined not to concede ground to the other here. Both are also in mixed form, with Mogga’s men throwing in the odd stinker of a performance (ITFC away) – and for that reason I feel it could be quite a tight game. Never easy to predict a draw – but that’s what my gut says here.
5 points – DRAW – 3.6 – LOST
Man City vs. Leeds & Chelsea vs. Brentford double:
30 points – over 2.5 goals in the Man City Leeds game & Chelsea win – 1.56 – WON