THE FA Cup semifinals mean a wonky, rambling fixture list in the English Premier League this week, with 11 matches – including several catch-up games – spaced out over five days.
Chelsea, now only four points clear of Tottenham Hotspur after their loss at Old Trafford, won’t have the chance to bounce back until they host Southampton on Wednesday morning.
Liverpool and Manchester United will be eager to get a jump on their rivals over the weekend, with Arsenal and Spurs off duty until Thursday and Manchester City sitting idle until Friday’s derby date.
But much of the action in week 34 will take place at the other end of the table, most notably Middlesbrough’s pair of bottom-five clashes against Bournemouth and Sunderland.
EPL Matchweek 34 betting
All odds courtesy of Sportsbet
Bournemouth -120.48 – Draw +270 – Middlesbrough +320
Hull City -105.26 – Draw +250 – Watford +300
Swansea City +120 – Draw +240 – Stoke City +230
West Ham +220 – Draw +250 – Everton +120
Burnley +550 – Draw +330 – Man United -200
Liverpool -200 – Draw +330 – Crystal Palace +550
Chelsea -120.48 – Draw +270 – Southampton +320
Arsenal -222.22 – Draw +320 – Leicester City +650
Middlesbrough +100 – Draw +230 – Sunderland +300
Crystal Palace +450 – Draw +300 – Tottenham -166.67
Man City -120.48 – Draw +250 – Man United +300
Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace
Monday, April 24, 2017 – 1:30am AEST – Anfield
- Liverpool win/both teams to score – +210
- James Milner first goalscorer – +800
A lone Roberto Firmino strike was enough to give Liverpool three points at West Brom and stretch their unbeaten run to seven.
And with Chelsea stumbling again, victory this weekend would see the Reds close the gap to six points – albeit with two more games played.
Sadio Mane’s absence has had an obvious effect on the team’s attacking virility, so it will be up to the likes of Firmino and Philippe Coutinho to set the pace in the final third.
They will also have to stop a Crystal Palace outfit that has lost only one of the last seven.
Christian Benteke has scored three goals in four games and will be determined to improve that tally against his former club.
Liverpool have struggled against Palace in the recent past, winning four and losing five of their last 10 meetings in all competitions.
But the hosts should have the edge if it comes to a shootout, which is a distinct possibility when you consider that this fixture has not produced a single clean sheet for either side since 2005.
Chelsea vs. Southampton
Wednesday, April 2016, 2017 – 4:45am AEST – Stamford Bridge
- Chelsea 2-0 correct score – +550
- Pedro first goalscorer – +450
It looked like it couldn’t possibly happen, but are Chelsea choking?
With their lead over in-form Spurs now cut to four points, the Blues cannot afford anything but a win this week.
They should have no real personnel concerns, with Thibaut Courtois (ankle), Marcos Alonso, Gary Cahill and Victor Moses (all illness) all expected to pass fit.
Southampton will have Oriel Romeu back from suspension, while Charlie Austin is closing in on a return after several months out with a shoulder problem.
Manolo Gabbiadini is up and about again, which will add a much-needed finishing touch to a side that has too often lacked composure in the final third.
It might not be enough at Stamford Bridge, however, as the Saints have managed only two points against the top six this season.
Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland
Thursday, April 27, 2017 – 4:45am AEST – Riverside Stadium
- Draw/both teams to score – +350
- Jermain Defoe first goalscorer – +550
If Boro can earn a result against Bournemouth on the weekend, and if certain other outcomes fall in their favour, a win over their northern rivals could see them head into week 35 with a chance of jumping out of the relegation zone.
But that is a hell of a task for a team that has not won a single Premier League game since Christmas.
The sacking of Aitor Karanka has done little for the Teessiders’ attacking potency, although Alvaro Negredo has found the back of the net twice in three games after seven starts without a goal.
That was also the case for the entire Sunderland squad until they broke their scoring duck with a 2-2 draw against West Ham last time out.
The Black Cats are lost without the goals of Jermain Defoe, who has now gone eight games without troubling the scorers.
Expect an old-school relegation scrap with little quality and the odd goal to either side.
Manchester City vs. Manchester United
Friday, April 28, 2017 – 5am AEST – Etihad Stadium
- Man United to win – +300 at Sportsbet
- Marcus Rashford first goalscorer – +700
Man City have won their last two to arrest what was shaping up as a potential slide out of the top four, but results against Hull and Southampton cannot pave over an indifferent home record against the big boys.
Of their five fixtures at the Etihad against other teams in the top seven, Pep Guardiola’s men have managed only a single victory – a 2-1 salute against Arsenal back in December.
Sergio Aguero is in fine touch with goals in each of his last five EPL starts, but City may need more than that if they wish to complete the double over their crosstown rivals.
For all the criticism of their efforts at Old Trafford, Man United remain unbeaten in the Premier League since October – a run of some 22 games.
Perhaps the biggest positive from their victory over Chelsea last week was the early strike from Marcus Rashford, who has now scored in consecutive games after breaking a long-running goal drought in the 3-0 win over Sunderland.
The Red Devils are paying way over the odds for what is always a hard-fought fixture, so a United win looks the value bet even though it will be their third game in the space of a week.