Blogs & Opinion


Losing their legs?

Ed wonders whether Hazard, Oscar and Mata can keep on firing

Features - Ed Chamberlin Posted 8th November 2012 view comments

Arsenal's drift from 16/1 out to 28/1 to win the Premier League title is as big a price change as I can remember after one football match.

And yet Sky Bet could go probably 100/1 and I reckon there wouldn't be many takers after Arsenal's display at Old Trafford on Saturday.

On his knees?: Will Hazard fade as the season draws on?

On his knees?: Will Hazard fade as the season draws on?

Manchester United were superior in every department. I wrote last week that I'd be amazed if Andre Santos played at left-back after the torrid time Antonio Valencia and Rafael had given Ashley Cole the previous weekend. Not only did Santos play but he got very little assistance from Lukas Podolski in front of him.

I found that amazing after what had happened at Stamford Bridge and also in both Arsenal's games against United last season where they were torn apart out wide.

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Gary Neville described it as a lack of respect and it was fascinating to hear him say that in previous meetings with Arsenal Sir Alex had told his team there was no point taking them on in a passing game as Arsenal were the better side.

Watch Ed's weekend preview video...

Despite Manchester United being by far the superior team this time around, Ferguson still paid Arsenal the respect of changing his side to stop the Gunners' strengths.

As Gary described on the Monday Night Football, principally that meant sacrificing Wayne Rooney to man mark Mikel Arteta and stop Arsenal's passing game at source.

Arsenal had no answer and alarmingly had no pressing game of their own to put United under any pressure. I was impressed with Arsenal at the start of the season but watched with sadness last Saturday as the Premier League is a better place when Arsenal are strong contenders. They are miles off that status right now.

It was a cruise for Manchester United in the end and they are top of the Premier League table for the first time this season and are favourites to win the title, shortened to 6/5 from 7/4 by Sky Bet's odds compilers.

Sky Bet's Premier League Title odds: 6/5 Man Utd, 2/1 Man City, 10/3 Chelsea, 28/1 Arsenal, 80/1 Tottenham, 150/1 Liverpool, 150/1 Everton, 250/1 Newcastle

Manchester City are six points worse off than at this stage last season and out to 2/1, which is the biggest price they have been all season.

They are digging out results and hanging in there, despite playing nowhere near their best. City (8/15 to win with Sky Bet) play in our first game on Super Sunday at home to Tottenham (9/2), who are looking to pull off a famous Manchester double.

Tottenham haven't won at both Manchester clubs in the same season since 1959. Things looked up for Andre Villa-Boas after Spurs' win at Old Trafford last month but the wheels have come off since then.

City did a double themselves last season winning both games against Tottenham for the first time in the Premier League. The 5-1 at White Hart Lane was their biggest ever win at Tottenham. This season's renewal is a crucial game for Roberto Mancini and Andre Villas-Boas, who have both come under increasing pressure of late.

After that we have a fascinating game between Chelsea (10/11) and Liverpool (3/1). It's amazing to think this is their 33rd meeting in all competitions in the last eight years.

They know each other well and Liverpool have had the sign over Chelsea of late doing the double over the Blues in each of the last two seasons, which means they are looking for five successive league wins against Chelsea for the first time since 1972-74.

Liverpool have also won the last three meetings at Stamford Bridge and three out of the last four in the Premier League. And yet Chelsea are odds on to win on Sunday and could be a good bet at that price.

Vulnerable

This is an excellent Chelsea side. Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard are so good to watch but there are two worries about them. First, that trio are brilliant going forward and do work hard but they inevitably leave space behind them, making their full-backs vulnerable.

Manchester United exploited that space ruthlessly but I'm not sure Liverpool have the same attacking options to do so. Raheem Sterling is a great prospect but they remain so reliant on Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan's brilliance rescued Liverpool yet again last weekend and his goals and assists have now contributed nine of Liverpool's 11 points this season.

The other concern for Chelsea is the workload on Oscar, Mata and Hazard. They played another 260 minutes between them on Wednesday night and you wonder how long they can play at their current level.

Chelsea have a brutal schedule with 12 games in six weeks, which includes a trip to Japan for the Club World Cup. Roberto di Matteo has a really tough balancing act on his hands.

Some other things to look out for on the Premier League weekend: Everton could be one for the accumulators as they have won the last five Premier League meetings with Sunderland at Goodison Park, scoring 18 goals in the process.

Going further back, the Toffees are unbeaten in the last 10 Premier League meetings at home, winning eight. Sunderland's last win at Goodison was in November 1996.

QPR have won nine of the last 10 meetings in the top division with Stoke. Stoke's last top flight win against them was 1-0 at home in March 1977 when Leo Sayer was number one with 'When I Need You'. QPR badly need the points.

Horse racing

The National Hunt season is bubbling nicely and top performances this week from Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card really whetted the appetite. This time next week we will all be frantically getting our Ten-to-Follow lists finalised before the Cheltenham Open meeting.

AP McCoy has a great record in this column for giving us a horse to follow for the season. Over the last few years he's given us Wichita Lineman, Binocular, Kid Cassidy and last season he recommended Darlan before he had run and he turned out to be top class.

AP has high hopes that Darlan could develop in to a Champion Hurdle contender this term and rates another horse with the same connections (McManus and Henderson) very highly.

My Tent Or Yours was a decent bumper horse and was heavily backed on his hurdling debut at Ascot last weekend. He won impressively and Sky Bet immediately cut him to 16/1 for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, for which McCoy also rates Waaheb very highly.

My Tent Or Yours' victory was all the more meritorious as he pulled McCoy's arms out for most of the way and his pilot thinks he has a serious engine and a horse to follow.

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