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Thursday, 23rd February 2012
There are just two live matches in the Premier League this weekend with Saturday evening's Man City v Blackburn game the first we'll take a look at. I think Roberto Mancini's side by their own admission haven't been at the top of their game for a while now. We've certainly not seen much of their fluent style of late, which was bulldozing teams in the first three months of the season. Perhaps this has been down to missing some vital players through injury, suspension and the African Cup of Nations, but I don't think all of the remaining players have been on top of their game so far in 2012.
There was a sign of a return to top form when beating Porto 4-0 in the Europa League on Wednesday night and when all said and done City are still two points clear at the top of the table and have won five of their last six games in the Premier League.
Much of the talk this week has been about Carlos Tevez and it now looks as though he's made his peace with the club and could be available for selection in a couple of weeks. In all due respect, City were flying when the original bust up occurred and it was easy for Mancini to take a tough stance with the Argentinian striker. But, the defeats at Sunderland and Everton plus the way City went out of the cups in recent weeks showed a vulnerability that you just couldn't see three months ago.
In football your professional side will always outweigh any personal feelings you may have when the stakes are so high and if Roberto Mancini thinks that Carlos Tevez's inclusion in his team can win them the title then he will be selected.
With regards to Saturday's match against Blackburn, this should be a straightforward home win as the odds of 1/6 on City suggest. It'll be interesting to see how Blackburn approach the game and despite already having won in Manchester against United at Christmas, I can't see them getting the same kind of joy here.
Yakubu is back in the Blackburn team and they do have goals in them, but I don't see City playing as open as United did on New Year's Eve and they also won't have the selection woes that Sir Alex did on that day. As I say, I don't see Man City allowing this to be an open game and I'm going for a comfortable 2-0 home win at odds of 10/1 with Bet365.
Sunday's live Premier League match is the Arsenal v Tottenham clash at The Emirates Stadium. This is a great game for Arsenal as it can give them the opportunity to spin all the negativity that has built up following their recent defeats at AC Milan and Sunderland. However, I'm not sure they're going to be good enough against a very strong Spurs side. I'd probably be wanting to wait for the team news for this one as we've seen that if Tottenham are missing two or three players they're not the same force.
Arsenal have gone backwards in the last six years and it seems that Arsene Wenger has gone from being a pioneer of the game from a coaching perspective to now playing catch-up. The Gunners are at home on Sunday which could be a blessing but they look so vulnerable at the back and if Spurs go into this North London derby with a full strength team, especially with the sensational Scott Parker bossing the midfield then I can only see an away win. It's for this reason that I'm going for a 2-1 win in the favour of Harry Redknapp's team at odds of 7/1 with bookmaker Coral.
Wembley hosts its first cup final of 2012 on Sunday as Liverpool take on Cardiff in the Carling Cup. This should be all about Liverpool who are as short as 4/11 to lift the trophy and you have to think if they play well they'll win. To be fair to Cardiff I've seen them play before against Premier League opposition and they've passed the ball well and looked confident in posession. Malky Mackay's team have hit a bit of a rough patch however and I wonder if this game has been on the players' minds.
I expect Cardiff to line up in a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 formation and try to overcrowd areas of the pitch. It'll be interesting to see how Liverpool set-up, as Kenny Dalglish has switched between playing the lone man up front or a 4-4-2 formation. I feel that Liverpool don't get enough players in the box when playing one forward, but they also lack natural width when playing four in midfield.
Four weeks ago I might have seen this differently as in a one off match anything can happen as Birmingham proved last season by beating Arsenal. However, with Cardiff's form a big concern and Liverpool putting six past Brighton in the FA Cup last week, It's difficult to see anything other than a win for the Premier League side. I'm going for a 3-1 correct score in the favour of Liverpool at odds of 12/1 with Ladbrokes.
Steve Claridge's Weekend Football Tips
Tip #1: Man City v Blackburn (25th Feb 2012) City to win 2-0 @ odds of 10/1 with Bet365.
Tip #2: Arsenal v Tottenham (26th Feb 2012) Spurs to win 2-1 @ odds of 7/1 with Coral.
Tip #3: Liverpool v Cardiff (26th Feb 2012) Liverpool to win 3-1 @ odds of 12/1 with Ladbrokes.
Steve's Weekly Multi: West Ham to beat Crystal Palace (8/13); Oxford to beat Macclesfield (8/15); Plymouth to beat Dagenham and Redbridge (Evs); Swindon to beat Accrington (1/2). A fourfold with Ladbrokes.com pays just under 13/2.
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