After the FA Cup disruption of last weekend, the Premier League schedule returns to something resembling normality this time around.
That means televised matches at the times you would usually expect, including the lunchtime and evening Saturday duo. So, of course, that leads us into a couple of previews and tips for the two TV matches…
LIVERPOOL vs Stoke City
Jurgen Klopp is expected to rest several of his first teamers for the visit of Stoke after the 5-2 thriller with Roma in the Champions League on Tuesday. Klopp has already shown a willingness to rotate with the top four as good as sewn up, and there will no doubt be a few weary players after the midweek mayhem.
The failure to hold onto a two-goal lead away at West Brom last weekend looked bad, but it really doesn’t mean much for the Reds’ season. Stoke’s draw with Burnley, on the other hand, was massive for the Potters, who have only won once since Paul Lambert took over in January.
Sitting on 29 points, Stoke cannot afford defeat at Anfield this weekend. Lambert has improved Stoke defensively. The price, though, has been a dreadful drop in attacking production.
The Potters have a woeful 8.18 non-penalty expected goals since Lambert’s appointment, the second-worst in the league. Defensively, Stoke have been left wanting still; regularly giving up a lot of chances, just as they did against Burnley last time out. In truth, they were fortunate to draw.
None of this bodes well for a trip to Anfield. Although at least one of the fearsome front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah will probably be rested, Stoke’s defence is likely to struggle. The attack might not be much better.
Lambert’s rare positive moments as Stoke boss have almost exclusively come through Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss international has kept Stoke in with a chance of safety with several spectacular goals. The 23/5 price on him to find the net anytime is a good one given Liverpool’s vulnerability in transition.
There’s a chance Liverpool aren’t fully focussed for this. Even if so, I doubt Stoke’s ability to take advantage of it. This could be a comfortable win for the hosts, particularly if Stoke are forced to chase the game.
TIP: Over 2.5 home goals @ 23/25
SWANSEA CITY vs Chelsea
Swansea sit four points ahead of 18th placed Southampton with four fixtures remaining. The drubbing at the hands of Manchester City can be forgotten quickly, and Carlos Carvalhal’s side can focus on picking up the remaining four points that should guarantee safety.
While this looked a challenging fixture back in August, Chelsea a pretty good opponent right now. The Blues have almost nothing to play for in the league, their players might be turning their attention to the World Cup and have struggled desperately in 2018.
The flip side of that, though, is that there are signs of a return to form. Antonio Conte’s side overturned a 2-0 deficit to beat Southampton and easily beat Burnley in the league, before cruising past the Saints again in the FA Cup semi-final.
Maybe, just maybe, the Blues still believe they can catch Spurs for that valuable fourth spot...
The early run of form under Carvalhal has hit an abrupt blip. Three points from their last 15 available in the league is not a good look. Their finishing has regressed to a more normal level of late, and the team’s inability to create multiple good chances a match is hurting again as it did under Paul Clement.
Conte opted for Olivier Giroud to start at Wembley but might revert to Alvaro Morata for this one. Giroud is the man in form, however. The Frenchman is a decent 11/8 to score anytime, having netted four times in his last 311 minutes of action.
This is a hard one to call. Swansea still have time even with defeat here, but the pressure only gets greater, particularly if Southampton pick up points. Their recent home record is good, though, and I fancy them to get something here.
TIP: Swansea to win or draw @ 6/4
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*