THERE were precious few winners in the upper echelons of the English Premier League table during the midweek fixtures.
Chelsea and Liverpool drew at Anfield, while Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur both failed to score against relegation candidates.
Worst of all were Arsenal, which was utterly outplayed as Watford snared a vital 2-1 victory away at the Emirates.
Those results were music to Manchester City’s ears.
Pep Guardiola’s men thrashed West Ham United at London Stadium, making them the only team in the top six to earn full marks this week.
It means they are now level on points with fourth-placed Liverpool and four points clear of sixth-placed United in the race for Champions League qualification.
City will hope Chelsea and Arsenal can take points off each other in this weekend’s headline act at Stamford Bridge, but the rest of their rivals all have very winnable fixtures.
Here are our top picks and value bets for the 24th week of the 2016-17 Premier League campaign, with all odds provided by top online bookmaker Sportsbet.com.au.
Matchweek 24 EPL betting
Chelsea $2.10 – Draw $3.30 – Arsenal $3.75
Crystal Palace $1.67 – Draw $3.75 – Sunderland $5
Everton $1.72 – Draw $3.75 – Bournemouth $4.50
Hull City $7 – Draw $4.50 – Liverpool $1.45
Southampton $1.72 – Draw $3.75 – West Ham $5
Watford $2.10 – Draw $3.40 – Burnley $3.60
West Brom $2.30 – Draw $3.25 – Stoke City $3.30
Tottenham $1.25 – Draw $6 – Middlesbrough $12
Man City $1.17 – Draw $7.50 – Swansea City $15
Leicester City $5.50 – Draw $3.75 – Man United $1.62
Chelsea vs. Arsenal
12:30pm local time – Saturday, February 4, 2017 – Stamford Bridge
- Chelsea to win/three or four total goals – $4.33
- Pedro first goalscorer – $7
The Blues couldn’t quite kill off Liverpool’s fluttering title hopes on Tuesday, settling for 1-1 draw at Anfield.
But with Arsenal, Man United and Spurs all failing to register wins, Antonio Conte’s men still hold a nine-point lead atop the table.
The squad could hardly be in better shape, with no injuries or suspensions to speak of.
The most significant personnel news out of Stamford Bridge is the departure of long-serving defender Branislav Ivanovic, who moved to Zenit St. Petersburg this week after nine years in the west of London.
Arsenal could only dream of such a clean slate.
Danny Welbeck is back on the pitch and playing some good football, but his return has coincided with more Gunners going down.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a chance to come back this weekend, but Santi Cazorla, Mohamed Elneny and Aaron Ramsey are all out of action.
Also unavailable is Granit Xhaka, who is serving a four-match ban after seeing red for a horrible two-footed lunge on Burnley’s Steven Defour two weeks ago.
While they are still reeling from their insipid effort against Watford in midweek, Arsenal are one the few teams who have the wood over Chelsea in EPL 2016-17.
They were the last side to defeat the Blues before they went on their record winning streak, way back in September.
However, the Gunners have won at the Bridge only once since 2008 – that famous 5-3 thriller in 2011, with Robin van Persie bagging a hat-trick.
Crystal Palace vs. Sunderland
3pm local time – Saturday, February 4, 2017 – Selhurst Park
- Correct score 1-1 draw – $7
- Jermain Defoe anytime goalscorer – $3.10
Both these teams picked up critical points in the midweek fixtures just gone.
For Palace, it was a 2-0 away victory at Bournemouth that ended a run of eight Premier League games without a win.
The Eagles are still in the relegation zone, but a second consecutive win – something they have not achieved since winning three on the bounce in September 2016 – could put them as high as 15th.
This weekend could mark the Palace debut of loan signing Mamadou Sakho, although the French defender may need a few weeks to find his touch after half a year in the wilderness at Liverpool.
Sunderland, meanwhile, are starting to make a habit of pinching points in the most unexpected of circumstances.
Having lost to Stoke and West Brom since their 2-2 draw with Liverpool at the start of January, the Mackems managed a shock stalemate this week against a rudely in-form Spurs side.
As many as three new faces could feature in the matchday squad at Selhurst, with Darron Gibson, Joleon Lescott and Bryan Oviedo arriving from Everton.
Not all Black Cats supporters are happy with those transactions, but manager David Moyes has made no apologies for signing players with whom he has worked in the past.
Perhaps the only bit of business that really mattered on Wearside was the retention of Jermain Defoe, who has netted 12 of the club’s 20 goals in Premier League 2016-17.
He scored twice in the reverse fixture at the Stadium of Light, although it wasn’t enough to stop Palace snatching a 3-2 win at the death.
Punters beware: while Sunderland’s away form is among the worst in the division (four points from 11 road trips), the Eagles have by far the worst home record (two wins, one draw, eight losses).
Hull City vs. Liverpool
3pm local time – Saturday, February 4, 2017 – KCOM Stadium
- Liverpool win/both teams to score – $2.80
- Adam Lallana first goalscorer – $8
They may be second from bottom, but the Tigers are still growling.
Marco Silva’s men were perhaps unlucky not to snatch a win at Old Trafford on Wednesday, with Lazar Markovic beating United keeper David de Gea late in the piece only to strike the upright.
The departure of Robert Snodgrass to West Ham is a huge loss, as the Scotsman was far and away their best player in the first half of the season.
And this weekend they won’t be able to call on new boy Markovic, who is on loan from Anfield.
January was a dreadful month for the Reds.
They failed to pick up a win in the league, which saw them slip from second to fourth and all but out of the title race – if such a thing even exists at this point.
It did not help that they were without Sadio Mane and Joel Matip due to the Africa Cup of Nations, but both are back now and could start at the KCOM.
Jurgen Klopp’s men demolished the Tigers 5-1 earlier in the season, but the club’s record on Humberside is poor – one EPL win in four attempts since 2008.
Leicester City vs. Manchester United
4pm local time – Sunday, February 5, 2017 – King Power Stadium
- United to score in both halves – $2.70
- Marcus Rashford first goalscorer – $5 at Sportsbet
The Red Devils are having one of those seasons.
After an excellent run over Christmas and into the new year, United have now drawn three matches on the trot.
The last of those was the most frustrating of all as Hull goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic pulled out one of the performances of the season to keep it goalless at Old Trafford.
United are not playing poorly, and their attacking options run as deep as any side’s, so one feels they only need a win to get things back on track.
On that score, Leicester make an ideal opponent.
The Foxes’ ludicrous fall from grace is no joke now, as three consecutive defeats have put them within two points of the drop.
The defending champions could find themselves in the unique position of reaching the Champions League knockout rounds and suffering relegation in the same season.
The magic is gone and the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater are but shadows of what they were last term.
United thrashed Leicester 4-1 at Old Trafford in September and have lost only once to the Midlands club since 1998, so they have every right to fancy their chances of getting the job done at the King Power.
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