The Premier League title race is the most interesting in Europe right now, and this weekend both Liverpool and Manchester City face po- south coast before Man City face Wolves on Monday night. It could prove to be another big weekend at the top.
Elsewhere Manchester United face their first real test under Ole Gunanr Solskjaer with their game against Tottenham, while in Europe second meets fourth as Napoli take on Lazio and Real Madrid look to ease the pressure on their manager when they host Real Betis on Sunday.
West Ham v Arsenal
West Ham’s form has dipped over the last few weeks and yet their counter-attacking 4-4-2 could be perfect to exploit the frailties in the Arsenal defence. Across their last six matches the hosts have won every game in which they have held the minority of possession and failed to win any game in which they have held the majority; their system only works when allowed to sit back, absorb pressure, and break with speed.
Arsenal could be in trouble, then. Injuries leave them with a pretty woeful defence, particularly at right-back where Sebastian Lichtsteiner is unlikely to cope well with Felipe Anderson. Marko Arnautovic’s brace against Brighton means he will be full of confidence ahead of facing Shokdran Mustafi, one of the most calamitous defenders in the division.
Tottenham V Man Utd
Ole Gunnar Solskajer might have won his first five matches as Manchester United manager but his team remain unknowable; there was no time to impart any tactical wisdom over Christmas. We are finally about to find out just how good a manager he really is, and with the attackers freed to take risks and push forward - but tactical chaos still probable - the best bet is goals at both ends.
Spurs have scored 22 goals in their last five matches in all competitions (prior to the midweek Chelsea game), reflecting the purple patch currently being enjoyed by Heung-Son Min, Harry Kane, and Dele Alli. Their fluid attacking football will surely expose the weaknesses of Victor Lindelof and company, even if United show bravery with piercing creative football themselves.
Back over 2.75 goals at 1.86
Man City v Wolves
Man City have won three consecutive matches to end their bad run of form in December, and yet there are still serious issues with the quality of their full-backs and their strength in central midfield. That hands a rare opportunity to Wolves, whose solid defensive organisation and unusual 3-4-3 formation will make them very tough opponents on Monday.
It seems highly unlikely Pep Guardiola’s side will manage to score more than a couple of goals here. Wolves are very good at maintaining discipline and shape, while the strength of their marauding wing-backs should cause problems on the counter. It might not win the visitors points, but it will at least keep the score down.
Back under 3.25 goals at 1.91
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Brighton v Liverpool
Brighton have only lost games by two goals on four occasions this season and, against top six clubs, only once: a 2-0 defeat away at Man City. They are defensively resolute for matches such as these, as proved in the narrow 1-0 defeat at Anfield earlier in the season. Liverpool will probably struggle to break down their hosts, even if the pattern of the match is wave after wave of Liverpool attack.
Liverpool will likely return to their 4-2-3-1 formation with Xherdan Shaqiri on the right and Mohamed Salah up front, which means plenty of runners in behind Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk. Ultimately the league leaders should be able to grind Brighton down, but it wouldn’t be a surprise should Chris Hughton’s side hold out until half-time.
Back half-time draw at 2.82
Real Madrid v Real Betis
There are growing murmurs of discontent with Santiago Solari’s management of Real Madrid after the European champions lost 2-0 at home to Real Sociedad last weekend to drop out of the top four. He is unlikely to make it to the end of the season, which means Betis have a real chance of capitalising on their hosts’ psychological state on Sunday.
Betis are unbeaten in four home La Liga matches and Real Madrid have collected just 11 points from nine away games in 2018/19, reflecting a troubling season that has no end in sight. The main problem for Solari’s side at the moment is that their opponents hold a big psychological advantage; everyone is desperate to take this rare chance to beat the great Real Madrid. Betis will bring their A-game.
Back double chance Betis/draw at 1.65
Napoli v Lazio
Despite this being a clash between second and fourth in Serie A, Napoli should not have a problem beating Lazio this weekend. The hosts are yet to lose a league game at home this season, winning each of their last three, while Lazio (currently 12 points behind Napoli) have won just one of their last four matches on their travels.
Free-scoring Napoli overcame a recent drought of scoring two goals in four matches by beating Bologna 3-2, with Arkadiusz Milik and Dries Mertens both finding the net. This should be a routine win for Carlo Ancelotti’s team.
Back Napoli to win at 1.80
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