PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEW 23/10

CHELSEA v NORWICH

Saturday’s early Premier League (PL) game sees league-leading title contenders Chelsea take to the field as overwhelming favourites, and with morale sky high after a 4-0 thumping of Malmö in midweek Champions League action. Like in that European victory, a hallmark of Chelsea’s success under boss Thomas Tuchel so far is their stellar defence – they have conceded a joint league-low three goals so far.In fact Chelsea have kept 16 clean sheets from 27 PL games under the German tactician’s stewardship. That includes shutouts in three of Tuchel’s four PL games against newly-promoted opponents since his arrival (W2, D1, L1), so rock-bottom Norwich appear to have a mountain to climb in what looks like a classic ‘David vs Goliath’ encounter.Now winless in their last 18 PL games (D2, L16), Norwich look set to sustain their reputation as a ‘yo-yo’ side, as characterised by either a Championship triumph or a rock-bottom finish in the PL over their last three campaigns. Last victorious at Stamford Bridge in October 1993, Norwich currently prop up the table despite picking up points in the last two PL rounds.As well as being goalless away from home, the ‘Canaries’ have also picked up just one point across the last seven PL away H2Hs (D1, L6). If there is any cause for optimism amongst the Norwich contingent, their last clean sheet here only dates back to May 2014, and after two goalless draws in the last two rounds, they are at least seeking a third consecutive top-flight shutout for the first time since 2011.

Players to watch: Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell has surprised fans with goals in back-to-back PL games, and a strike for England in between despite playing as a full-back. Meanwhile, Teemu Pukki has scored both of Norwich’s paltry two goals so far.

Hot stat: No bottom-placed side has beaten a league leader heading into a PL matchday since February 2011.

MY BET: Chelsea to win & Over 3.5 Goals 6/4

CRYSTAL PALACE v NEWCASTLE

After a shaky start to their Premier League (PL) campaign, Crystal Palace are growing in confidence, and they’ll be disappointed to have drawn 2-2 away to Arsenal in midweek. Cruelly denied by an injury-time equaliser, manager Patrick Vieira knows that they must start converting drawn games into wins (W1, D5, L2) if they’re to move towards the top half and away from a potential relegation battle.The ‘Eagles’ are still unbeaten at home in the PL this term (W1, D3), encouragingly producing those results against sides currently above them in the table. However, they have cause to be wary ahead of this clash with Newcastle United – now under new ownership following their £305 million takeover – as they’ve won just one of the last four H2Hs here (D2, L1).The hosts might ‘fly’ under the radar as speculation builds around who Newcastle might appoint to replace manager Steve Bruce, who left on Wednesday after failing to oversee a league win this season (D3, L5). The ‘Magpies’ made an impressive start to his 1,000th game in management before losing 3-2 to Tottenham Hotspur last weekend but must maintain that quality throughout to get themselves out of the relegation zone and away from danger.With just a draw to show for their efforts on the road in the Premier League this season (L3), they’ve at least scored in the last three of those games and for all the doom and gloom surrounding their on-field performances, they had one fewer point in 2018/19 after eight games (D2, L6) yet still survived!

Players to watchOdsonne Édouard is becoming a key man for Palace and could make a late impact as all three of his PL strikes this term have come after the 70th minute. Conversely, Callum Wilson has opened the scoring in all three of his goalscoring league outings this season.

Hot stat: After matchday eight, Newcastle’s matches had produced a league-high average of 3.63 goals per game.

MY BET: Both Teams To Score 3/4

EVERTON v WATFORD

Everton’s ambitions for European qualification took a blow on Sunday, with Rafael Benítez finally shorn of his 100% home record this campaign, as his men went down 1-0 to West Ham. This marked their second defeat in four league matches (W1, D1, L2), and with both losses seeing them concede from a corner kick, there is already a niche weakness for them to address.Injuries have played their part in Everton’s recent slump, with both losses seeing 2020/21 top scorer Dominic Calvert-Lewin and prime strike partner Richarlison absent from the squad. The latter’s return to fitness will be particularly welcomed, as Everton have lost half of the ten Premier League (PL) games the Brazilian has missed since the start of 2020 (W2, D3, L5).Watford also have a point to prove, after being humiliated 5-0 by Liverpool last Saturday. The result undoubtedly gave new manager Claudio Ranieri much to ponder, but he has won on his last four visits to Goodison Park as an opposition manager, giving Watford some hope of defying the odds and registering a maiden win at this venue on the 16th attempt.The visitors’ away record to date spells trouble (W1, L3), and while all of those defeats saw Watford keep a second-half clean sheet, their inability to recover from an early setback is alarming. Notably, their most recent PL away points recovered after conceding first and trailing at half-time date back to January 2019.

Players to watch: Everton left-back Lucas Digne memorably denied Watford their first Goodison Park win back in December 2018, with an injury-time free kick (D 2-2). He will be particularly wary of Watford winger Ismaïla Sarr, who netted twice beyond the hour mark in the Hornets’ sole away win this season.

Hot stat: Everton have failed to keep a clean sheet in five prior PL fixtures played on this date (W2, D2, L1).

MY BET: Draw 11/4

LEEDS v WOLVES

Second-season syndrome has well and truly set in for Leeds United, who returned to their regular poor form with defeat to Southampton last time out directly following their sole win of this Premier League (PL) season. The ‘Whites’ haven’t been at their brightest all campaign long, winning just one of their first eight league games (W1, D3, L4) for the first time in the top-flight since finishing rock-bottom in 1981/82.Considering the above, Leeds can count their lucky stars that there are three teams who have performed worse than them so far, yet beating Wolverhampton Wanderers will prove no mean feat for Marcelo Bielsa’s side. That’s because the hosts have lost five straight league meetings against Wolves, scoring just one goal in reply!The Bruno Lage era at Wolves looks like it’s beginning to pick up some traction after a run of four wins from five PL games ahead of this clash (L1), peaking with Wolves’ second-ever PL win after trailing by two goals last time out (vs Aston Villa). The visitors have now recorded more wins in their last five outings than in their 16 PL games prior (W3, D3, L10) and will hope to carry on that run here at Elland Road as they mount an outside challenge for European qualification.Another victory here would see the away side win four consecutive top-flight matches for the first time since 1972, and they’ll be confident of doing just that after winning back-to-back away PL games in Yorkshire, against both Sheffield United and Leeds last season.

Players to watch: Leeds’ in demand forward Raphinha has scored in two of their four PL home games so far, though they didn’t win either time when he netted (D1, L1). A deflected Rúben Neves free-kick secured Wolves’ historic comeback victory last time out as all three goals came on or beyond 80’.

Hot stat: Wolves were drawing at half-time before claiming victory in each of their last three PL matches.

MY BET: Both Teams To Score 4/6

SOUTHAMPTON v BURNLEY

A narrow 1-0 triumph over Leeds last time out finally kick-started Southampton’s Premier League (PL) campaign and means the prospect of back-to-back wins is a very real possibility for a ‘Saints’ side who now face a winless Burnley. History would intensify Southampton’s belief in securing successive victories, with five wins to their name in the last eight H2H meetings (D1, L2) at St Mary’s.Goals have been few and far between for Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side since the departure of Danny Ings and only Burnley (five) and Norwich (two) have scored fewer PL goals than Southampton’s six. However, a South coast clash with the ‘Clarets’ could prove to be the perfect antidote for the goal-shy ‘Saints’, who boast an average of 1.88 goals per game across the last nine home H2Hs.As far as footballing cliché’s go, ‘the league table doesn’t lie’ is certainly widely used, but in the case of Burnley, perhaps it doesn’t tell the full story for a side who have nosed ahead in four of their eight PL games so far, only to win none (D2, L2). Another failure to take three points on Saturday would make it Burnley’s longest ever run without a league victory with Sean Dyche at the helm.The ‘Clarets’ boss will be concerned by the fact his side are shackelled with the unwanted record of the longest run in England’s top four divisions without a league win, which now stands at 11 games (D3, L8), but his Burnley side can take heart from the fact their four PL wins prior to this torrid run all came on the road.

Players to watch:Armando Broja opened his Southampton account against Leeds to draw level with Fred of Manchester United as the ‘Saints’ top home PL scorer. Meanwhile, Matěj Vydra has scored on Burnley’s last two visits to St Mary’s.

Hot stat: Fifteen of Southampton’s last 23 PL victories have been ‘to nil’.

MY BET: Southampton to win 19/20

BRIGHTON v MANCHESTER CITY

Despite three consecutive Premier League (PL) draws, Brighton & Hove Albion start this round just two points behind visitors Manchester City after making their best ever eight-game PL start (W4, D3, L1) to occupy fourth place prior to the round. However, they laboured to a goalless draw against Norwich City (October 16) and must raise their game against the reigning champions.They did just that when winning this fixture 3-2 last term, but that was their first H2H success anywhere since 2008 (L8), and they scored more goals in that match than they had in the previous eight meetings! It’s hardly been a thrill-a-minute at the Amex Stadium this term either as their home league fixtures have produced an average of 1.75 goals per game (W2, D1, L1).City may well increase that, however, as their midweek 5-1 UEFA Champions League demolition of Club Brugge was the fifth time they netted 5+ goals in all competitions this term. Yet to trail at half-time in the league this season (HT: W3, D5), Pep Guardiola’s side will hope there’s no European hangover as they’ve failed to win their next PL match following a continental tie on the last four occasions (D2, L2).With the ‘Cityzens’ locked in a three-way battle with Chelsea and Liverpool at the top of the table and having taken points from trips to both (W1, D1), another solid performance on the road would both keep the pressure on their rivals and extend their lead over Brighton.

Players to watchLeandro Trossard bagged Brighton’s opener in this fixture last season and they’ve won each of his last five goalscoring appearances. Kevin De Bruyne could provide late action, as he’s netted after the 65th minute in City’s last two PL matches.

Hot stat: Dirty ‘Seagulls’: Brighton have collected more yellow cards than any other team across the first eight PL matchdays (averaging 2.75 per match).

MY BET: Over 3.5 Bookings 8/5

Spain v France

Two thoroughly entertaining UEFA Nations League (UNL) semi-finals have lifted Spain and France, two of the last three World Cup winners, into this UNL showpiece, and a chance to battle each other in the first H2H clash in a major final since 1984. One-quarter of a century after facing off as rival midfielders in the 1996 Euros, either Didier Deschamps or Luis Enrique will win their first UEFA silverware as a national team manager.

HERE SPAIN

Spain avenged their Euro 2020 knockout defeat to Italy in their UNL semi-final on Thursday, ending the Azzurri’s record 37-game unbeaten run in the process, and could be birthing a new generation of title winning footballers after their glory years of 2008-2012.Nonetheless, and despite just one loss over their last 18 games (in 90 mins), that semi-final victory was a fifth consecutive knockout match (in any competition) in which Spain failed to keep a clean sheet. That only reaffirms the burden on their attacking unit, which has been held to one or no goals in four of their seven UNL 2020-21 fixtures, but does offer the rare prospect of goals in a major final against an attacking France side that have their own defensive issues.

HERE FRANCE

Those issues were on display in France’s semi-final, but a brilliant second-half comeback saw them beat Belgium 3-2 and confirmed their place in Sunday’s showpiece event at the San Siro in Milan. That’s helped ‘Les Bleus’ to recover somewhat after their shock exit at Euro 2020, and a record of just one defeat in regulation time over their last 28 games highlights the continued strength of this France squad, although their win against Belgium was just their second win from their last seven starts as favourites.

KEY PLAYER

Pablo Sarabia is the only Spanish player other than Ferran Torres to score in three internationals since the beginning of the Euro 2020 finals, whilst France’s Karim Benzema has been his team’s first goalscorer in a remarkable four of his last five appearances for club or country.

HOT STATS

All but one of the last 11 finals in a UNL or Euros has produced fewer than 2.5 total goals (excluding extra time), as have the last seven H2Hs.

MY BET

Ferran Torres to score Any Time @3.66

Spain to win First Half @3.50

Sweden v Kosovo

With Group B leaders Spain not involved in any World Cup Qualification (WCQ) action during the October window, second-placed Sweden have a chance to move top of the group by winning their two games in hand at home against Kosovo and Greece. Having earned their largest winning margin since the start of 2020 in the last H2H (W 3-0), they’ll be confident of progressing to a W4, L1 record courtesy of another victory here.

HERE SWEDEN

Currently ranked the 18th best nation by FIFA, the hosts are just one win away from equalling their most victories obtained in a calendar year since 2001. That started with a strong defeat of Croatia in the UEFA Nations League since which Sweden have built a seven-game winning streak on home soil, establishing a half-time lead ‘to nil’ on all but one occasion.

HERE KOSOVO

Kosovo worked their way to their best ever FIFA ranking (109, up from 115) with some outstanding performances in September, taking points from two of three WCQ games as underdogs (W1, D1). The visitors have in fact held their own on the road in recent times, taking points home from the majority of their competitive away games (W3, D5, L5) since 2018.
To further highlight their impressive improvement, Kosovo have not suffered a three-goal defeat since their meeting with Sweden in March – eight matches ago. The absence of the hosts’ legendary Zlatan Ibrahimović – sidelined with a knee injury – should help the away side in their bid to keep that streak running here, where it feels like it’s win or bust for Kosovo’s slim World Cup 2022 ambitions.

KEY PLAYER

Gyökeres (SWE)

He is in line for his third international cap after scoring in five of his last six matches for Coventry City, including four opening goals

Muriqi (KOS)

He has established himself as an international specialist, with his last seven career goals being earned in national colours.

STATS

11 of the last 12 matches involving either nation (chronologically) have been either drawn or decided by a one-goal margin.

MY BET

Considering the statistic listed above, I would try the handicap bet.

Sweden (0:1) @ 2.05
Gyökeres to score @ 2.37

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Belgium v France

The match between Belgium and France is a match between the heavyweights of European football. Both national teams come from a disappointing Euro 2020 but, with this competition, they have the opportunity to take revenge in particular Belgium who would like to avenge the defeat in the 2018 World Cup semifinals suffered by the French.

BELGIUM

The goal of Martinez’s men will undoubtedly be to win the trophy. In fact, Belgium is still the only national team in history to be in first place in the ranking not to have forfeited any important trophy.
The “Red Devils” come to this tournament after having won 5 of their last six games (1 draw), scoring 16 goals.

FRANCE

Didier Deschamps after the exit in the round of 16 of Euro 2020 against Switzerland has seen a slow recovery of him (2 draws and 1 victory in the World Cup Qualifiers). However, he has a comforting record from him: France has not lost an official with Belgium since September 1981!
The journey in UNL was also very comforting, spiced with 5 wins and only 1 draw in an iron group with Croatia and Portugal.

KEY PLAYERS

Lukaku (BEL)

He has contributed to 4 goals in his last 2 games (3 goals-1 assists)

Benzema (FRA)

If Karim scores, France can be “calm”. In the 24 games in which he scored his country he recorded 22 wins and 2 draws!

STATISTICS

The over 0.5 in the first half has occurred 16 times in Belgium’s last 18 international matches!

MY TIPS

Belgium will have to win. The elimination of Italy will give more confidence to Martinez’s men who in my opinion are superior to Spain. Pogba for the transalpines could give a show given the rumors that they want him ever closer to Juventus. I would bet like this:

Pogba Scorer Yes
Correct Score 2-2 (has not occurred since 1986!)