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Draw looks a decent punt for Benitez's first Chelsea game against Man City

Thursday, 22nd November 2012

Steve's tips for the upcoming live action will appear here on Thursday but in the meantime you can check out what he tipped up last weekend.....

We're almost a third of the way through the Premiership season and from what we've seen we have a far more competitive league nowadays but by golly it's far poorer. Sunderland in particular have struggled of late but they go into Saturday lunchtime's game with West Brom off the back of their first win in six in the league after they beat 10-man Fulham last weekend. A few wins can make a real difference in this division and if they win their game in hand at home to Reading then all of a sudden it's not such a bad start to the season as three points would take them above the likes of Liverpool and Newcastle.

It is amazing what a win can do for confidence and we saw what a difference it can make in the game with Fulham last weekend - Stephane Sessegnon passed up a scoring opportunity when he opted not to shoot when the score was still 0-0 but later on in the match Sunderland were 2-1 up and he picked it up and whacked it into the back of the net. 

Obviously West Brom have been excellent and it's barely a shock when they beat teams like Chelsea, as they did last weekend, especially when you consider the state that Chelsea are in. West Brom are a very flexible team as they can play one up front which means they can be competitive in midfield and Shane Long plays that lone striker role well, or they can play 4-3-3 when they want to get after teams. I don't think there will be an awful lot between the teams in this Sunderland v West Brom game and I'm going to go for a 1-1, which is 5/1 with PaddyPower, which looks a decent bet when you consider West Brom have only won once away from home this season. 

The late kick-off on Saturday is then Aston Villa v Arsenal and Villa are a side that drive you mad. They narrowly lost 3-2 to Man United the other week and you just wonder how good were Villa in the first half or was it just a case that United were really bad? Villa have since gone to Man City and got absolutely smashed 5-0. They were in the game for 40 minutes against City but you shouldn't be getting beat by five and they've fallen apart there really.

This game with Arsenal is a difficult one to call because you can never be sure what you're going to get from either of these teams. Do you really want to put too much store in Arsenal? There's absolutely no consistency and you can't have too much confidence either way with them because you back against them and they win or you go with them and they lose. This should be a very decent game though because both of these sides will have a go and I'm going to go 2-1 to Arsenal (15/2 with Ladbrokes) but as I say trying to predict any sort of consistency in this division is becoming very difficult!

On to Sunday and we have the return of Brendan Rodgers to the Liberty Stadium as it's Swansea v Liverpool and this is an intriguing fixture. Liverpool are improving, mainly because of Luis Suarez, who has directly contributed to 85% of their goals this season, and I do wonder what they would do without him. I'm not convinced by their summer signings yet but expectation isn't massive at the club at the moment and there is a lot of patience there. They are still way off where they should be though because they are undoubtedly one of the big boys of European football. 

Swansea got the better of Liverpool when they beat them 3-1 in the League Cup the other week and they have actually done alright against them since they got promoted last year. I watched Swansea at home to Chelsea where they played some good stuff and I reckon they can win this 2-1, which is 11/1 with Bet 365. Michael Laudrup has got some good players and they are probably where Liverpool want to be in terms of understanding each other as a team and in terms of the way they want to play.

Finally, we've got Rafa Benitez's first game in charge at Stamford Bridge as it's Chelsea v Man City on Sunday afternoon. The Premiership becomes vitally important considering what has happened in the Champions League and I heard Roberto Mancini say the other day that it's going to take 10 years for City to do well in Europe, which is a ridiculous statement. It's all very well beating up Aston Villa but they should have gone to the next level in Europe by now.

Meanwhile, it seems a long time ago that Chelsea were four points clear at the top of the table and they have plenty of problems now - they can't defend, their midfield doesn't offer enough and I find it bizarre that they can get rid of Michael Essien in preference for Mikel and Oriol Romeu. They've obviously got Frank Lampard and John Terry to come back in and those two will add to the team but it won't solve all of their problems and they have a real issue because they don't have another way of playing. 

When Chelsea are without the ball they are a shambles defensively but having said that they are at home and obviously it's their first game with a new manager. City would take a draw before the game and I'm going to go for the 12/1 with Ladbrokes for a 2-2 draw.

Steve Claridge's Weekend Premier League Tips

Tip #1: Sunderland v West Brom (24th Nov 2012) - Match Bet: Draw @ odds of 12/5 with PaddyPower. Correct Score: 1-1 @ odds of 5/1 with PaddyPower

Tip #2: Aston Villa v Arsenal (24th Nov 2012) - Match Bet: Arsenal win @ odds of 8/11 with Ladbrokes. Correct Score: 2-1 to Arsenal @ odds of 15/2 with Ladbrokes.com.

Tip #3:  Swansea v Liverpool (25th Nov 2012). Match Bet: Swansea win @ odds of 12/5 with Bet365. Correct score: 2-1 to Swansea @ odds of 11/1 with Bet365.

Tip #4:  Chelsea v Man City (25th Nov 2012). Match Bet: Draw @ odds of 9/4 with Ladbrokes. Correct score: 2-2 @ odds of 12/1 with Ladbrokes.

Steve's Weekly Treble: Middlesbrough to beat Bristol City (8/13); Doncaster to beat Scunthorpe (Evs); Ipswich to beat Peterborough (21/20). A treble with Coral returns a touch over 11/2.

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