FEW bosses came into the season under greater pressure than Roberto Di Matteo and the Chelsea manager has responded by steering his team to two wins from two to lead the way in the Premier League.
The Italian has been helped by a forgiving start to the campaign, with Wigan away and Reading at home, but it’s the first time that the Blues have topped the table since November 2010. How long they can continue to set the pace, and whether they will be at the summit in May, will be determined by their performances in far tougher assignments, like tomorrow’s match against Newcastle.
The Toon finished one rung above sixth-placed Chelsea last term and they have continued from where they left off, with an opening day 2-1 victory over Tottenham. Now they will be full of confidence heading to Stamford Bridge – a ground on which they are unbeaten in four visits thanks to taking five points from their last three league contests and earning a 4-3 victory in the third round of the 2010/11 League Cup.
CHELSEA vs NEWCASTLE
The most recent of those meetings was one that will live long in the memory for Papiss Cisse’s brace of wonder strikes that silenced the Bridge. The Senegal striker will again be a threat – and the trouble for the hosts is that he is far from alone in that respect. Cisse’s partner up top and fellow countryman Demba Ba netted a brilliant curling effort against Spurs and Hatem Ben Arfa showed what he is all about when he won and converted a penalty to seal the victory. Throw in the likes of Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye in midfield, a rejuvenated Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini at the back, then the outstanding Tim Krul behind them, and the strength of Newcastle’s spine is clear to see.
Not that there’s much wrong with the options at Di Matteo’s disposal – he’s spoilt for choice in every department and I can understand why they are 8/15 favourites with Coral, but that’s too short for me. Newcastle, who went 11 games unbeaten at the start of last season, look a big price at a general 6/1. I wouldn’t be put off having a small bet at those odds, but my main recommendation is to lay Chelsea, at 4/7 on Betfair, so that we profit in the event of a draw or an away win.
Sporting Index have set their total goals spread at 3-3.2 and I think that presents us with a nice opportunity to sell. Admittedly, Chelsea looked lively against Reading and there could have been more goals than the half dozen witnessed in the game, but that had much to do with the Royals’ attacking attitude and I expect Alan Pardew to be a little more conservative.
Lay Chelsea at 4/7 on Betfair
Sell total goals at 3 with Sporting Index
STOKE vs ARSENAL
IF Arsene Wenger drew up a list of the grounds he hated visiting most, then I am sure that the Britannia Stadium would be pretty close to the top.
There is the recurring nightmare of Ryan Shawcross’ challenge on Aaron Ramsey every time Arsenal see their red-and-white-striped opponents and, although the horrific injury was never intended, it serves as a reminder of Stoke’s approach. But Tony Pulis certainly won’t be changing his tactics any time soon as they enter their fifth season in the Premier League.
In the four previous league meetings here the Gunners have managed just four points and they also lost 3-1 in the 2010 FA Cup at the Britannia.
While Stoke battered and bruised opponents last season, they huffed and puffed in front of goal. The Potters were the lowest scorers in the division, but still finished nine points ahead of 18th-placed Bolton, which shows just how often they managed to grind out results, one of which was the 1-1 home draw with Wenger’s boys.
With a gaping Robin van Persie-shaped hole in the Arsenal attack that neither Lukas Podolski nor Olivier Giroud could on Saturday fill in the goalless draw against Sunderland, Pulis will fancy his charges to keep the visitors at bay on Sunday.
With Arsenal evens, I’d far rather have the draw at 9/4 with Coral. No goalscorer is a tempting 8/1 with the same firm and I’ll be selling goals at 2.5 with Sporting Index.
Draw at 9/4 with Coral
Sell total goals at 2.5 with Sporting Index
LIVERPOOL vs MANCHESTER CITY
EVEN with the mediocrity that has engulfed the club in recent seasons, the most pessimistic of Liverpool supporters would have found the 3-0 defeat at West Brom hard to see coming.
It showed just how much work Brendan Rodgers has on his hands and he will be desperate for something from the visit of Manchester City on Sunday to give himself a little room to manoeuvre in what will be a testing start to his tenure.
After City, the Reds host Arsenal before they visit Sunderland and then welcome Manchester United. The results from those games should tell us plenty about Liverpool’s long-term prospects.
City showed that they are not yet watertight at the back when they allowed Southampton to score twice on Sunday, but Luis Suarez will need to locate his finishing boots after failing to find them before his outing at the Hawtorns if his team are to worry their guests.
Roberto Mancini’s men don’t have a great record at Anfield – they haven’t won there under him in league or cup – and their last victory came in May 2003 when a Nicolas Anelka brace cancelled out Milan Baros’s strike.
Both meetings in 2011/12 at Anfield ended in stalemate – 1-1 in the Premier League and 2-2 in the Carling Cup – and another draw could be on the cards here, at 23/10 with Coral.
I think Liverpool will show a reaction and even in their darkest days their home form tends to stand up.
Draw at 23/10 with Coral