Match analysis and tips for today's Premier League fixtures which both involve attractive odds against the bookies.
Norwich v Brighton Prediction - Home side drinking at the Last Chance Saloon
I wrote a blog analysing the impact I thought the enforced break might have on Premier League teams and using examples of what had occurred in the Bundesliga to support a series of hypothesis. One of those was that the break might benefit the clubs in the lower half of the league re-set their seasons after poor runs of form.
As far as Brighton are concerned that has very much been the case with the Seagulls able to take 4 vital points from their opening 3 games against sides with much loftier ambitions including a first win of 2020 against Arsenal. That little run has pulled them 6 points clear of relegation and you would have to fancy that a win here today would see them safe.
By contrast, Norwich have been truly awful since the return from lockdown. You would generally expect a side near the bottom to at least rally for a short while and put in a couple of performances that suggested they wanted to fight for survival but that has not happened. Ultimately, Norwich don't have the quality to stay up but we have seen enough from in some of their Premier League games as well as a decent cup run to show they can give it go when they want to.
It struck me as quite strange that Daniel Farke decided to rest several of his star men for the home game against Everton on 24th June undoubtedly in preparation for the FA Cup QF against Manchester United. It was a clear indication that even with 8 games to go the club felt that the 6 point gap between them and safety was too much to close and their priority was a cup run. That game against United was Norwich's best performance since the re-start by some way and had they have held on for a little longer and taken the game to penalties then with Tim Krul and his water bottle in goal (see thumbnail) then who knows?
Goals have been a major problem for Norwich. They have not scored in any of their league games since the re-start and haven't looked likely to either with expected goals in those 3 games recorded at 0.65, 0.38 and 0.15 respectively. Teemu Pukki was every fantasy manager's dream earlier in the season but only the eternally hopeful would be maintaining Norwich's top-scorer in their sides at the moment - he hasn't scored in his last 8 Premier League games. Given that Norwich have shipped more goals since the end of lockdown than any other club you can see why hopes of survival have faded pretty quickly in East Anglia.
By contrast, Brighton have been very solid at the back. Yes, they conceded 3 goals against an inform Manchester United side in their last outing but their expected goals against in their 3 games so far is the 3rd best in the league behind only Wolves and United themselves. 10 of the Seagulls 34 goals this season have come from set-pieces and they will fancy adding to that tally today against a Norwich side that has the 2nd worst defensive record from set-pieces in the league.
I doubt this is going to be a classic affair and you can pick up odds @1.8 for under 2.5 goals. Equally, Adam Webster to score anytime @15.5 looks fantastic value. I've seen the big centre back play many times for his former club Bristol City and he is a real handful in the box from set-pieces having already netted 3 times in his debut season in the Premier League.
Ultimately though I think the best value on this match can be found on Brighton to win. They still have a couple of very tough fixtures to come after this one in the form of Liverpool and Manchester City so I am sure that Graham Potter will have them motivated for this game with the message that they can get the job done with a win here.
Prediction: Brighton to win @2.28 or better
Wolves v Arsenal Prediction - Arsenal's struggles away from home to continue
Here's an interesting factoid for you! By the time Wolves complete their Premier League campaign this year, their 2019/20 season will have been running for exactly 1 year and 1 day and that is not even factoring in that they are still in the Europa League that is set to recommence in August. It all began for the home team with their qualification games to get into the Europa League proper against Northern Ireland's Crusaders FC on 25th July 2019 - a happier time for us all!
While some teams and managers might complain that it has been difficult to recover from the break and find form and fitness again, I think a case could be made to say that Wolves have been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the rest it offered and that had the season have continued as normal there would have been a threat that they would run out of steam given their early start. Certainly, their 3 wins in 3 games since the re-start suggest they aren't feeling too many ill effects and they find themselves in a great position to push for a Champions League spot if they can get the job done today.
Over the last couple of seasons, the one area that has prevented Wolves from achieving higher league positions is their home form. They remain a very difficult side to beat at Molineux but they've drawn 7 of their 16 games there this season and an inability to turn a couple of those matches into 3 points might ultimately cost them when you compare their home record with the 3 sides immediately above them.
Defensively they are very well organised and have the 4th best record in the league having not conceded in the 3 games they've played since the league resumed. Upfront they have the impressive Raul Jimenz who alongside a supporting cast of technically gifted midfielders is sure to give a struggling Arsenal defensive its fair share of problems today. The Traore-Jimenz partnership is the most prolific in the Premier League this season with the powerful winger having provided 7 goals for his striking colleague. Traore has mainly been used off the bench in recent games but I would expect him to play from the start today in what is a crunch match.
If Wolves home form has been patchy at times then Arsenal's away form has been shocking. The Gunners have recorded just 3 victories on their travels this season and have already lost at Man City and Brighton since the restart. The FA Cup win last weekend and then the 4-0 hammering of bottom club Norwich during the week have helped take a lot of pressure off a side that was being lambasted for its performances in the league prior to that but it's tempting to believe those results are just papering over some of the cracks that exist within this Arsenal squad.
If Arsenal harbour any hopes of sneaking a Champions League spot then a win here today is essential but with their injury problems and a host of difficult league fixtures including a North London Derby and home matches against Liverpool and Leicester before a semi-final against Man City, the chances of them getting there appear slim. It might ultimately be that the Gunners are left focusing on the FA Cup which in recent years has provided a good return in terms of silverware.
Arsenal's main threat will come from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who is now joint top scorer in the league this season with 19 goals. Rumours are that he would be willing to sign a new deal at the Emirates if the price is right (a reported £250k a week for 3 years). Given how Arsenal got their fingers burnt with similar deals for Sanchez and Ozil in recent years it would be a high-risk move but at the same time can they afford to let a player of such quality leave the club?
Arsenal haven't beaten this Wolves team since they returned to the Premier League and they lost the corresponding fixture last year 3-1. Given their struggles away from home and Wolves winning streak I think the odds on a home win in this match look quite attractive.
Prediction: Wolves to win @2.33 or better
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What are your predictions for this weekend's matches?
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