BettingLive.com's Jonathan Turner runs the rule over this weekend's Premier League action as the teams return from an international break...
The Premier League resumes on Saturday following the international break and it looks a set of fixtures on which to tread carefully.
We've still only got three weeks worth of form in the bank and it's dangerous to make too many early conclusions. For example, plenty of pundits have lambasted reigning champions Manchester United's start under new boss David Moyes yet they took exactly the same number of points (four) from the corresponding fixtures last season under Sir Alex Ferguson.
We tipped up a United win last time out at Liverpool, feeling it offered value at the price, and while they ended up losing against the early pacesetters it's far too early to write off the Red Devils' title hopes, though there's little scope in backing them this weekend at long odds-on against Crystal Palace in the Saturday lunchtime game.
The one regret from the debut tipping piece was the downfall of a near 10/1 treble after 2.5 goals failed to come in at odds-on in Arsenal v Spurs. Looking at previous fixtures between sides can prove a useful pointer and goals had been in plentiful supply in recent north London derbies but the fact there were so many personnel changes at Spurs should have set alarm bells ringing. The match at the Emirates rarely had the feel of a clash between two arch rivals and Tottenham look a work in progress right now - a side to be watched carefully for future clues rather than included in our upcoming staking plan.
So that's who I'm not going to be backing, but hopefully of far more interest are the ones I am keen to flag up and Aston Villa top that list.
There were signs towards the end of last season, even in the midst of their relegation battle, that they were a team on the up. Indeed the only sides to have beaten them since January are Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs.
That momentum has continued this season despite them having a tougher opening fixture list than any other club - Arsenal (away), Chelsea (away) and Liverpool (home) in the space of eight days. The Villans produced battling performances in all three matches, the highlight their 3-1 victory over the Gunners at the Emirates, a result which has been franked ever since then.
On Saturday they have much their easiest assisgnment of the campaign so far as they welcome an ailing Newcastle outfit to Villa Park and it's a real surprise to see some odds against available about the home win.
The Magpies did prevail in the fixture last season but that match came when Newcastle had found a bit of form after bringing in reinforcements in the January transfer window whereas Villa were reeling from a nightmare run in the league (including an 8-0 drubbing at Chelsea) and a shock exit in the Capital One Cup semi-finals at the hands of League Two Bradford.
Since then the fortunes of Villa and Newcastle could hardly have been more contrasting, with Paul Lambert's youngsters gelling into a more-than-useful outfit and one which has been able to retain the services of powerhouse Belgian striker Christian Benteke over the summer whereas the Toon Army have at best stood still, doing virtually no business in the latest transfer window.
Newcastle's one away fixture saw them hammered 4-0 at Manchester City and though they've since picked up four points at St James' they came via unconvincing performances against West Ham (0-0) and Fulham (1-0).
They'll find Villa's high tempo pressing style altogether more difficult to contain and a home win at 23/20 (BetVictor, general) is nominated as the weekend banker.
One early trend in the first month of the season has been a distinct lack of goals. Just nine games out of 30 have gone over the 2.5 mark and six of those featured at least one side from the 'big four'.
A two-week sojourn for the internationals is hardly likely to help in terms of fluency this weekend and the match which leaps out as a likely a low goals make-up is the live Sunday offering between Southampton and West Ham.
The Saints have a win, a draw and a defeat to show for their efforts but it's been a lacklustre start as they had one of the softest fixture lists imaginable (West Brom, Sunderland and Norwich). Those three games also produced just four goals in total but even that is one more than those generated in West Ham's opening trio of matches.
They were effective first up against new boys Cardiff with a 2-0 win at Upton Park but since then they've been held 0-0 at Newcastle and lost 1-0 at home to Stoke. And there's no great mystery to their struggles as on-loan Andy Carroll's performances in the second half of last season were the key factor in their top-half finish.
The big striker's move was made permanent over the summer - for a fee of £15.5million - but he's yet to feature this term because of a persistent heel injury. His absence undoubtedly removes their main goal threat and their problems have been compounded by the news that winger Stewart Downing has now joined Carroll in the treatment room.
Despite all of which Coral still offer 11/4 about under 1.5 goals Saints/West Ham on Sunday and in the current circumstances that looks generous.
I'll normally provide a banker, a double and a treble but this week, given the prices, I'm shelving the double in favour of a couple of 'next best' singles - the goals tip above is one of those and the other is Stoke to surprise Manchester City at 7/2 in the 'draw no bet' market.
While mindful of the caveat about reading too much into just three games, it's still been eyecatching to see Stoke's early progress under Mark Hughes. The Potters carved out a thoroughly-deserved 1-0 win at West Ham last time and that result is put into perspective - even in Carroll's absence - by the fact that only Merseyside pair Liverpool and Everton plus north London duo Arsenal and Spurs left Upton Park with maximum points last season.
Stoke's other two matches saw them miss a late penalty as they lost 1-0 at early leaders Liverpool before beating Crystal Palace 2-1 and now could be just the right time to be playing Manchester City as they are badly missing skipper Vincent Kompany from the heart of their defence.
Manuel Pellegrini's side were undone twice by corners as they slumped to a shock 3-2 defeat at Cardiff and the Britannia Stadium isn't the place you want to go if there are question marks against your ability to defend set-pieces.
In fairness Stoke's style (certainly in possession and completed passes) has evolved markedly under Hughes and he looks to have a real chance of putting one over the club which sacked him back in December 2009.
We're going for the 'draw no bet' market (stakes refunded in the event of it finishing level) at 7/2 rather than Stoke outright at 5/1 for a little bit of insurance as this is a fixture which has ended 1-1 in each of the last four seasons.
Our treble this weekend focusses on the corners markets as this is an area where there can often be decent value early in the campaign as the styles of teams can undergo big changes from season to season.
Flagkicks are likely to be in almost as short supply as goals at Craven Cottage where Fulham and West Brom clash in what already looks like a relegation tussle. The two sides have made desperately slow starts to the season and show few signs of improving and that's also evident in their corner counts - just four in three games for Fulham while the Baggies have mustered seven. Bet365 go a top-priced evens about under 11 and we'll snap that up.
It should be a different story at Stoke - the Potters have won 17 in three games while opponents Manchester City have weighed in with 23 and no wonder given the threat Jesus Navas poses galloping down the right flank. The Citizens' vulnerability in this sphere against Cardiff has also been noted and that's surely something a still-powerful Stoke side will be aiming to exploit. It's 11/10 for more than 11 in that game.
The treble is rounded off with Everton to win more corners than Chelsea at 10/11 in their Goodison Park clash on Saturday evening. The Toffees did us a favour a fortnight ago when landing our banker bet by claiming more flagkicks than Cardiff. It's a market they've got a 100% record in this term, including an 11-1 verdict over West Brom in their one home match to date, and retaining the services of full-back Leighton Baines is another plus point. In contrast Chelsea have been efficient rather than expansive since Jose Mourinho's return and that's reflected in their corners won - just seven so far in total.
Finally I can't resist mentioning an area I'll be looking at closely shortly after 2pm on Saturday. It's the teamsheets from the Stadium of Light (where Sunderland take on Arsenal) which will be the focus of attention, or more specifically whether Mesut Özil is in the Gunners' starting XI.
The German looks a fabulous signing for Arsene Wenger - even at £42million - and it's surely not going to be long before this weekend's quotes of 11/4 (Boylesports) about him getting an anytime assist (the final pass before a goal is scored) are significantly shorter.
His goalscoring record may not be too special (19 in 85 appearances for Real Madrid) but his assists most certainly are, with no fewer than 47 in the same time frame. No one in La Liga had more (even Lionel Messi was only on level pegging) and it's better than one every other game whether you look at the bare stat or assists per 90 minutes (between 0.58 and 0.60 for each of his three seasons in the Spanish capital).
Clearly it's not quite as simple as saying he should be closer to evens for an assist on Saturday given that he's yet to work much with his new team-mates and is coming into a side which has scored just over 70 goals in each of the last three seasons compared to Real's 100+.
But equally he's set to line up against a Sunderland outfit which has already lost to Fulham and Crystal Palace this season, shipping three goals in the latter game against the bookies' favourites to finish bottom. And if reports this week are to be believed the Black Cats' first team (or what was left of it during the international break) lost a behind-closed-doors match to the club's under-21s.
Put simply, 11/4 just looks far too big as long as he's on from the start and that's the problem from a tipping point of view - just as it is with anytime scorer advice - as I appreciate many of you will have better things to do at 2pm on Saturday than be waiting for the Arsenal team sheet! However it's definitely one to bear in mind.
Weekend banker - Aston Villa to beat Newcastle at 23/20 (bet365, Bet Victor, Coral and Paddy Power).
Next best singles - under 1.5 goals in Southampton v West Ham at 11/4 (Coral), Stoke to beat Manchester City in 'draw no bet' market at 7/2 (Spreadex) or 3/1 bet365.
Treble - under 11 corners in Fulham v West Brom (evens), over 11 corners in Stoke v Man City (11/10) and Everton to have more corners than Chelsea (10/11) - 7.02/1 (all prices with Bet365)
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