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On Saturday there will be just 51 days to go. That’s it. With no more dreary international breaks to hold things up, the Premier League season has entered the home straight and we’re set for a non-stop sprint towards the finish line.
Two huge fixtures towards the top of the table kick off the run-in this weekend, and our football expert Adrian Clarke gives us a heads up on what to expect…
Liverpool v Everton | Sat 1 April 12:30
It was hard to swallow at the time, but Sadio Mane’s scruffy injury time winner in December’s Merseyside derby, inadvertently jolted Everton’s season into life.
Romelu Lukaku is now on fire. Ross Barkley’s been in swashbuckling form. New faces Joel Robles, Tom Davies and Morgan Schneiderlin have helped to reinvigorate a side that’s now found a fresh identity under Ronald Koeman.
Winning eight and drawing three of the 12 Premier League matches they’ve taken part in since losing to Liverpool that night, this feels like a great opportunity to lay their painful Anfield bogey to rest.
If you believe Everton will claim victory away to the Reds for the first time this century, you’ll be offered odds of 17/4.
That’s a decent price for a team playing as well as the Toffees.
Big games bring the best out of Jurgen Klopp’s men though, don’t they?
Unbeaten home and away against members of the current Top 10 – a remarkable achievement – Liverpool have developed a handy habit of raising their game when the stakes are high.
Dutchman Georginio Wijnaldum is a prime example. Scoring crucial goals at home to Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, the midfielder’s runs into the box will need close attention on Saturday. He loves the big occasion.
To score first in the derby, Wijnaldum is a 21/2 shot.
What sort of match can we expect? I suspect it will be fast-paced and attack focused.
That’s how Liverpool like to play at home, and it suits this fitter, faster Everton team to adopt an aggressive front foot strategy too. When starting cautiously away to Spurs, their threat diminished.
To win this derby I have a feeling they must push on and get the likes of Barkley and Lukaku (7/4 to score anytime) onto the ball inside the final third as often as possible. Those two will strike fear into the hearts of a slightly suspect Reds defence.
If the Toffees are trailing with 15 minutes to go, don’t write them off either.
They’ve scored 17 goals between the 75th minute and the final whistle in their last dozen league fixtures. Overall this term they have a stunning 22-4 record in that period of games!
I think this will be a close fought contest. My pick would be for a Draw with Both Teams to Score, which is available at 21/5.
Arsenal v Man City | Sun 2 April 16:00
Out of sorts, low on confidence, and with the spectre of uncertainty hovering in the Emirates Stadium air, Arsenal are in a pickle ahead of Manchester City’s visit this Sunday. Based on form there’s a real danger they’ll miss out on their annual top four finish.
At 21/10 though, I believe they represent excellent value in this contest.
While I accept Manchester City are performing with significantly more belief than the Gunners right now, 5/4 favouritism in North London is a big call from the bookies.
With their backs to the wall Arsenal must come out fighting. And providing they do, I’m not convinced Pep Guardiola’s developing side has the fortitude to withstand a ferocious barrage away from home.
Yes, they have gone four league games on the road without conceding, but let’s not forget they lost at Tottenham, Liverpool, Everton and Leicester City, and hardly looked watertight when knocked out of the Champions League by Monaco either.
For me, much like the Gunners, this gifted City team is a little brittle in tough tests on the road.
With both teams’ key strengths on the ball rather than off it, it’s hard not to envisage goals. Over 2.5 goals have been scored in 70% of Arsenal’s matches this season, and 71% of City’s away games have matched that too.
With Aguero, Silva, Sterling, Sane and De Bruyne all in good nick City are near certain to score, but this is too big a match for Arsenal to lose. They have no excuses not to throw everything at this one.