THE Premier League returns this weekend and Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) gives us his three best bets.
West Ham v Sunderland | Saturday 12:45 | BT Sport 1
Slowly but surely people are starting to realise that Sunderland might stay up this season. Their 2-1 win over Manchester United two weeks ago was an affirmation of the progress the club have made since Sam Allardyce grabbed the reins back in October.
Since the turn of the year Sunderland have won three of their seven Premier League matches and within that spell they’ve beaten Manchester United and secured a good draw against Liverpool.
Jermaine Defoe has been key to this upturn and the former Spurs and Portsmouth player has scored six goals in his last seven games. Great timing Jermaine!
While there’s much to like about Sunderland there’s also some good vibes kicking about West Ham at the moment. Their emphatic 5-1 win over Blackburn last week at huge odds of 13/10 in the FA Cup has put them into the last eight and surely in with a chance of glory in May?
I for one have backed them to go all the way and it would be a fitting end in what’s been a landmark season for them as they exit the hallowed turf of Upton Park.
I feel a bit bad taking them on here on Saturday but I just feel there’s a wee bit of value to eke out with Sunderland at the prices. Not as much as usual but still…
Another thing to consider is that former manager Allardyce returns to Upton Park here. Make no mistake there’s no love lost between him, the club and their fans that will definitely be a factor in his mind here.
Allardyce looks the kind of guy who would hold a grudge and do all he can to avenge what he would feel as an injustice. This game on Saturday gives him that opportunity.
It’s Sunderland +0.75 for me. Half my stake goes on then to avoid defeat at +0.5 while the other half lands on +1.00 meaning a one goal loss will see that part of my stake returned.
Southampton v Chelsea | Saturday 15:00
Fascinating betting heat this one. I hummed and hawed for a good seven minutes trying to figure out who I would have as favourite. Chelsea got the narrowest of nods but I simply can’t agree with some layers who have them almost half a point shorter than Southampton.
It seems a bit of a cop out to back a draw but I can't see any other outcome here and I think both managers will be content with taking a point from this match.
After losing eight of their 10 matches between November and the early days of the year Southampton are now not too far away from a Champions League qualification berth. It's an incredible turnaround.
A disappointing and frankly worrying 1-0 defeat at Norwich on the second day of the year saw Saints plummet further down the table but since then they've been exemplary.
Post January 2nd they've gone P6 W5 D1 L0 and secured wins against Top 10 sides Manchester United and Southampton within that spell. This run of form has pushed them up to 6th place in the table and within seven points of the Top 4.
Another hugely important key factor in all this is their amazing defence. Since Fraser Forster returned from injury Southampton have been rock solid.
You have to go back to that Norwich game on January 2nd to spot the last time Southampton conceded a goal in the league and it's now six consecutive clean sheets for Forster and the club.
Chelsea are also in the habit of avoiding defeat just now. Since Guus Hiddink took charge just before Christmas they've only lost to the might of PSG in Paris and are now unbeaten in 10 matches in the league.
As befits this bet, six of the 10 matches have been draws and I think we'll see an occurrence of that here. For all their dogged form this is nothing like the Chelsea of last season and there's no way they can be backed to win here with confidence.
With Chelsea unbeaten in 10 in the league and Saints on a wonderful run of form it's definitely the draw at 12/5 with Netbet that stands out here.
West Brom v Crystal Palace | Saturday 17:30 | Sky Sports 1
When God made super sexy Saturday live football TV schedules this weekend's version was definitely not in his plans. We've got West Ham v Sunderland at lunchtime followed by West Brom v Crystal Palace in the evening. Yeah, I'll give it a miss cheers.
I backed West Ham on the Double Chance two weeks ago against Everton and they delivered for me with a 1-0 win. In truth, I got away with it.
Everton pummelled them that day and West Brom were clinging on for dear life. Even Baggies manager Tony Pulis was shocked at how they managed to win that game.
Since then they've been knocked out of the FA Cup by Championship side Reading and it's fair to say positivity is in short supply at the club with the club down in 14th place and just one league win in six to their name.
With an eight point cushion to the relegation zone it's unlikely they'll become embroiled in that but there's definitely a sense of stilted progress at the club.
The Baggies have scored just 24 goals in the league this season too with only Aston Villa racking up fewer. Yeah, there's just not much positivity kicking about.
It's been a poor 2016 for Crystal Palace too. Sitting pretty in the Top 6 at Christmas Day they've fallen off a cliff since then with no league win in nine since the turkey and stuffing was served.
Contrastingly in the FA Cup they're thriving. Last weekend they knocked out Spurs to reach the last eight of the competition and with Reading in the next round have a huge chance of progressing to Wembley.
Their Premier League form is a worry though and when you consider they've faced Aston Villa, Bournemouth (twice), Swansea (twice) and Watford during this run then no excuses can be made.
Overall though I think they're a better side than West Brom and are in a much better place than their counterparts. Things will turn for the Eagles in the league and I'm hoping it's here.
Knocking out sensational Spurs last week must have given the club heart and fight and up against a West Brom side devoid of any panache they can take advantage.
I'll back Crystal Palace draw no bet here at 19/20. I'm hoping this is the game their league form turns the corner and they start moving up the table again.
West Ham v Sunderland – Sunderland +0.75 (11/14 Netbet)
Southampton v Chelsea – Draw (12/5 Netbet)
West Brom v Crystal Palace – Crystal Palace Draw No Bet (19/20 Netbet)
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