Ed Chamberlain blogs on Manchester City against Chelsea, the title race and the Capital One Cup final
Ed Chamberlin looks at the betting market for Manchester City's crucial clash with Chelsea.
Last Updated: 21/02/13 11:06am
Manchester United have been throwing relentless punches of late and could be 15 points ahead on Saturday night. They have dropped just four points in their last 14 games, while the champions have dropped 17 in the same period. City need to hang in there to stay in the fight for the Premier League title.
We'll be at the Etihad for Super Sunday as Roberto Mancini's side face a real test against Chelsea: two sides out to prove their critics wrong and two managers in a similar position. They are second and third in the league, yet they have the favourite and fourth favourite (Mancini 11/4, Benitez 8/1) in Sky Bet's 'Next Premier League Manager To Leave market'.
We covered the first game between these two at Stamford Bridge which will be remembered for the hostile reception Rafa Benitez received as he emerged from the tunnel for his first game in charge. I will never forget the intense noise outside the studio that day. The game finished 0-0 and it could be very tight again. These two sides have the best defences in the Premier League this season: City have conceded 24, Chelsea 28.
Top play bottom at Loftus Road on Saturday, where there should be goals. Manchester United had to come from behind to win 3-1 at Old Trafford in November, thanks to second half goals from Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher and Javier Hernandez. That was after Jamie Mackie had given QPR a 52nd minute lead. QPR's last home win against United came 24 years ago - 3-2 in May 1989. The Bangles were at number one at the time with Eternal Flame. Rangers will have to be on fire to get anything this weekend.
Manchester United have been part of a brilliant couple of weeks of Champions League football. Real Madrid versus Man Utd and AC Milan against Barcelona were both compelling matches and lived up to all the hype. Sky Bet's betting is more open than recent years with Bayern Munich their new favourites at 11/4 after Barca's defeat. They and Madrid are 9/2 with United a 6/1 chance. Others have chances too as Borussia Dortmund (15/2) have been brilliant so far, Juventus (10/1) have looked well organised and I also think Paris St Germain (16/1) are made for the big stage and definite runners. It's shaping up like a vintage competition.
Sunday also sees the Capital One Cup Final at Wembley, which is live on Sky Sports after Super Sunday. Bradford are 7/1 with Sky Bet to end their fairytale run with victory over Swansea (4/11) inside 90 minutes. Phil Parkinson's side are 4/1 to lift the trophy and the way the Capital One Cup has gone this season, anything is possible.
The Premier League weekend finishes with West Ham (9/4) against Tottenham (23/20) on the Monday Night Football. The form book points firmly to Tottenham as only Man Utd are in better Premier League form than Spurs, while only Wigan are below West Ham in the form guide. It promises to be an emotional night as there are a series of events planned to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of 1966 World Cup-winning England captain Bobby Moore. I hope you can join Gary Neville and I at 7pm on Monday on Sky Sports HD1.
The Tour of Oman this week gave us a great taster for the season a head. To see Chris Froome and Alberto Contador going head to head is exactly what we are likely to see around France in July. It's potentially sensational sport and just what cycling needed after a horrendous few months, which is still rumbling on with the Fuentes Trial in Spain.
Froome v Contador can lift that gloom and for me it is the best rider in the world against the man with the world's best team. Team Sky were awesome in Oman and after his victory Sky Bet shortened Froome in to 11/4 from 7/2 to win the Tour de France with Contador at even money. I still favour the Spaniard but only just.
I cannot remember a trickier build up to the Cheltenham Festival for punters. Running plans are unclear left, right and centre. Injuries are always a curse and I'm particularly sad there will be no Flemenstar in the Champion Chase. However, the race could still be a belter if Sizing Europe and Cue Card take on Sprinter Sacre but it could also be a non-event and procession for Nicky Henderson's superstar if the others go elsewhere. The existence of the Ryanair doesn't half complicate markets and dilute races, and the Jewson does exactly the same to the novice chasers. Trainers will keep their options open, particularly with the handicaps, until the last minute.
The upside for punters is that the ring at Cheltenham is so competitive and the of course market so cut throat that the prices are likely to be bigger on the day than they are now and there will be special offers left right and centre, so there is no need to play your cards - at least until Sky Bet go non-runner money back on races as they have already on the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle. Temptation is currently high too after Dave Ord and Will Hayler's entertaining and informative reports from the top yards' open days this week.
The thing creating the most uncertainty and difficulty is the state of the ground. Second guessing the surface for the Festival is nigh on impossible but a bigger problem is that all the form going in to the Festival has been on bottomless ground. A quicker surface is sure to bring shocks galore, particularly in the handicaps.
This weekend's big race at Kempton sums up the problem. Going in to the Racing Plus Chase most of the leading contenders have been producing their best form on heavy ground and suddenly could be running on good ground on Saturday. Wyck Hill was impressive in horrible ground at Ascot last time, while I saw Rolling Aces win at Wincanton on Boxing Day in the worst and deepest ground I have ever seen. The form book could easily go out of the window if this drying weather continues.
One person who is flying ahead of Cheltenham is my colleague Alex Hammond. She's riding in the St Patrick's Day Derby on day three of the Festival and has been working incredibly hard in preparation for the race and to raise money for a brilliant cause - Cancer Research. You can read her story and sponsor her at www.justgiving.com/SkySportsAlexH. Alex could well be my tip of the week!