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Let battle commence

Ed tips up the sporting weekend...

Blogs - Ed Chamberlin Posted 6th December 2012 view comments

Only one place to start this week: Sunday's Manchester derby.

Finally, after all the drama on the final day of last season and the early skirmishes of the new campaign, the two best sides in the country go head-to-head.

The betting suggests it's already a two-horse race for the title with Manchester United odds-on with Sky Bet for the first time this season at 5/6 and City a 13/10 chance. In the space of a few weeks, Chelsea have gone from 7/2 to 14/1.

Silva lining: City will be a bigger threat to United with Silva in tow, says Ed

Silva lining: City will be a bigger threat to United with Silva in tow, says Ed

Sky Bet have the champions as their favourites to come out on top on Sunday at 5/4, with United a 2/1 chance and the draw at 5/2. The draw price is the one that interests me as I'm sure United would be pleased with that result.

A stalemate would not be a disaster for City either, but they cannot afford to fall six points behind Sir Alex Ferguson's side. Just like last season, the derby is going to be a pivotal occasion in the title race.

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Sky Bet's Premier League Title odds: 5/6 Man Utd, 13/10 Man City, 14/1 Chelsea, 66/1 bar

Both sides go in to the game with questions to answer.

City are unbeaten in the league (if they avoid defeat on Sunday they will equal the club record of 22 league matches unbeaten) but haven't hit the heights of last season, which saw them do the double over United.

They are looking to win three successive League games against United for the first time since 1970, and the big occasion brought out the best in Roberto Mancini's team last term.

It hasn't in the Champions League this time around, though, and it will be interesting to see if a Manchester derby does.

United just keep on falling behind in games and conceding goals - 32 in total now this season. They have conceded first in 10 Premier League matches going on to win seven and lose three, while last season United failed to win any of the eight games when conceding first.

A set piece cost them in this fixture last season and has been their Achilles heel again, particularly against Reading in that crazy 34 minutes last weekend. Sir Alex's priority is likely to be to tighten up at the back and also have more presence in the centre of midfield.

Yaya Toure overpowered them at times last season and David Silva found space to unlock the back four at Old Trafford, so City will be hoping Silva is fit for Sunday; the team news along with tactics are going to be crucial.

Contrasting

We'll be live on Super Sunday from 1pm on Sky Sports HD1 and in Sky 3D, but after the big game at the Etihad we have West Ham (9/5) v Liverpool (7/5) live from Upton Park.

The home side won both games last season, scoring three goals in each, and West Ham's 3-1 win at Upton Park in February ended a run of three straight defeats and seven games without a win against Liverpool. However, the Hammers have not won back-to-back league games against Liverpool since 1964.

Contrasting fortunes for these two so far this season and you'd have got long odds at the start of the season on West Ham being in the top half all season, whilst Liverpool have always been in bottom half.

The two big worries for Liverpool this weekend are that they haven't yet won any of the eight matches that have followed a Europa League game this season (D5, L3) and the absence of Luiz Suarez. It can't have been easy for the Sky Bet odds compilers to price up Liverpool's goalscorer market with Suarez suspended on Sunday.

They have Jonjo Shelvey heading a wide open list at 13/2 and Raheem Sterling, who turns 18 on Saturday, next in at 7/1. This will be a real test for Brendan Rogers' side without their talisman and at Upton Park, which will be jumping again after that brilliant second half against Chelsea.

That 45 minutes will have really stung Rafa Benitez. Can he get his first league win at Sunderland on Saturday? Sky Bet have his team at 4/5 and the omens are good as Chelsea have had the sign over Sunderland for years, winning 14 of the last 15 Premier League meetings.

Sunderland's only win in the last 11 years was the 3-0 at Stamford Bridge in November 2010. Chelsea have scored 25 goals in the the last eight games against the Black Cats and most importantly have won on their last seven visits to the Stadium of Light, scoring 12 goals in the last four.

Other things to look out for in the Premier League this weekend: Tottenham did us a big favour on Saturday winning at Fulham at 11/8. They are 11/4 to follow up at Everton, where they have won more Premier League points (30) than they have at any other ground.

Stoke (15/8) are in great form but their last top division win at Aston Villa came 47 years ago, while Fulham have won five of the last six meetings with Newcastle at Craven Cottage, including each of the last three.

Horse racing

Forget the Open Meeting at Cheltenham or the Hennessy at Newbury, this is going to be - weather permitting - the best weekend of jumps racing so far this season.

There's action over the Grand National fences at Aintree, Sprinter Sacre v Sanctuaire, plus some top novice chasers clashing at Sandown and the best quality field we've seen this term in the John Durkan Memorial Chase.

Ireland's two leading Gold Cup candidates, Sir Des Champs and Flemenstar, are set to meet with last year's winner Rubi Light and the top class Quito de la Roque and Bog Warrior also in the mix, making it the race of the season so far.

On a weekend of sporting heavyweight clashes, the best head-to-head of the new campaign is over at Sandown with the eagerly-anticipated clash between Sprinter Sacre and Sanctuaire, with the sub plot provided by the two rivals to be champion trainer, Nicky Henderson v Paul Nicholls.

It's going to be an intriguing tactical battle with Sanctuaire going from the front, stalked by Sprinter Sacre. Can Nicholls' charge can get last season's Arkle winner off the bridle and how will Sprinter Sacre react if he comes under pressure?

Jumping is going to be all important, and Sky Bet have Sprinter Sacre at 1/2 and Sanctuaire at 9/4 and I can't wait to see who comes out on top.

The undercard isn't bad, either, as top novices Captain Conan, Overturn and Hinterland could meet in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase. The winner is likely to leap to the forefront of the Arkle betting but would do well to match Arvika Legionniere (7/1), who I think put up the best performance by a novice chaser this season at Fairyhouse last weekend.

Finally, keep a close eye out for the horse AP McCoy recommended to us as his horse to follow for the season, My Tent or Yours, who could re-appear in the opener at Sandown on Saturday. Another big player on a sensational day's racing.

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