Rodgers reliant on Suarez to make a point at the Bridge

Sunday 4.00pm

A QUARTER of the way through the season and it’s clear to see that reviving Liverpool is not going to be an easy task for Brendan Rodgers.

The Reds’ opening five games yielded just two points and there is still a long way to go, although their fortunes have improved in recent weeks.

They added nine points to their Premier League tally from the following five games and are on their longest unbeaten run in the top flight since December last year.

Extending that stretch to half a dozen games won’t be easy, yet there is a case to be made for Rodgers’ team taking something from their trip to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Liverpool’s squad for the long haul to Russia and last night’s Europa League tie with Anzhi Makhachkala shows just how barren the talent pool is at the Northern Irishman’s disposal. He had no choice but to leave half his first team at home and it will be a huge benefit for the Chelsea game that the likes of Steven Gerrard, Joe Allen, Daniel Agger and, particularly, Luis Suarez, were all spared the journey.

Suarez’s availability simply has to be preserved at all costs. Not only is he Rodgers’ sole fit striker, but he’s alone in scoring more than one league goal for the Reds this term, and has seven of his side’s 11 in total.

The Uruguayan has netted 10 times in all competitions and his blistering form has seen him strike in his last three appearances.

Considering Chelsea have failed to keep a clean sheet in seven straight games, since they beat Nordsjaelland 4-0 in the Champions League at the start of October, Suarez will fancy his chances of keeping his streak going.

Coral’s offer of 13/2 for Suarez to score first is one that tempts, even if Roberto Di Matteo recalls John Terry to shore up his leaky backline now that the Blues skipper is free from suspension.

Another option, albeit a volatile one, could be a small sell of the time of the first Liverpool goal with Sporting Index at 55 minutes.

In terms of an outright bet, it really is a tough game to call. There will be plenty who pile in on Chelsea at evens, but a cuter punt could be the stalemate at 12/5 with Coral.

Liverpool have drawn half their league games this term, while Chelsea have been shaky in recent weeks.

In the last six meetings between the sides, Chelsea might have beaten Liverpool 2-1 in the 2012 FA Cup final, but they have lost the other five, with three of those defeats coming at the Bridge.

■ Pointers…
Draw at 12/5 with Coral
Suarez to score first at 13/2 with Coral
Sell time of 1st Liverpool goal at 55 minutes with Sporting Index

Tomorrow 5.30pm

TOP of the league, Manchester United also head the betting, at 5/4, for this season’s title.

It hasn’t been plain sailing all the way – as defeats against Everton and Tottenham testify – but they deserve both positions. Already on a run of four league wins, United have a host of straight-forward fixtures coming up.

After tomorrow’s contest at Aston Villa, a run of Norwich, Queens Park Rangers, West Ham, Reading, Sunderland, Swansea, Newcastle, West Brom and Wigan is only interrupted by December’s visit to Manchester City.

Paddy Power’s 4/5 for United to be top at Christmas looks a steal. However, there are probably better bets than United to win at Villa Park, even at Coral’s best price of 4/7.

The Red Devils have only kept three clean sheets in 16 games across all competitions, with just one of those coming on their travels, at Newcastle.

Clearly there are problems at Villa, and there are far worse 5/2 shots than Paul Lambert’s men to go down, but they claimed a vital victory at Sunderland last time out and a point at home to Norwich before that.

I do expect United to win, but would prefer to have my money on the longer price of 4/6 with Coral for both teams to score.

Villa can be expected to dig in and I can see the hosts heading into the break on level terms. Coral’s 16/5 for the draw half-time / United full-time double result is worthy of investment.

■ Pointers…
Draw / Manchester United at 16/5 with Coral
Both teams to score at 4/6 with Coral

Sunday 1.30pm

ANDRE Villas-Boas is developing a reputation as a Marmite manager and the jury remains out on his time at Tottenham so far.

Mediocre in the cups and inconsistent in the Premier League is a fair early assessment.

A run of five wins in six league games, with the victory at Old Trafford the undoubted high, hints at Spurs’ rich potential, but defeats at Newcastle and at home to both Chelsea and Wigan have done plenty to keep supporters’ hopes grounded.

By the end of November we should have a more concrete idea about their prospects. In that time, Spurs will have visited the Etihad and the Emirates and have welcomed West Ham and Liverpool to White Hart Lane.

The uncompromising run begins at Manchester City and it’s hard to know what to make of the champions.

Despite the failure of what is almost certain to be another early Champions League exit, City are the only team not to have lost in the Premier League this season.

And they have been virtually untroubled at home, where they’ve won four and drawn once, after dropping just two points there in 2011/12. That said, performances haven’t lived up to results.

West Ham were good for the goalless draw they held City to at Upton Park on Saturday, while Roberto Mancini’s men were unconvincing when beating Swansea 1-0 at home and needed late goals in recent victories at West Brom and Fulham.

Spurs have been better on the road and could be more at ease away from the pressure of their own fans.

I think it will be a tight, low-scoring game, so would sell total goals at 2.9 with Sporting Index and the draw, at 11/4 with Coral, comes into consideration.

Alternatively, backing Spurs with a +1 Asian handicap – the equivalent of a one-goal head start – at at 1.89 (around 9/10) allows us to profit in the event of a Spurs win, as well as the draw, while stakes are returned if City win by no more than a single goal.

■ Pointers…
Tottenham (+1 Asian handicap) at 1.89 with
Sell total goals at 2.9 with Sporting Index