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Wednesday, 24 October, 2018

Don't be surprised if Blues lose ground

But Spurs could grind out a positive result

Chelsea Manager Antonio Conte reacts
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What's your best bet of the weekend?

Phil Agius Racing Post sports editor Gillingham have had a tough run of fixtures, slipping into major relegation trouble with four successive Sky Bet League One defeats. But it doesn’t get any easier for the Kent club with playoff-chasing Millwall arriving today. The Gills have conceded the most goals in the section and are yet to keep a clean sheet in 2017 so the Lions strikers should be able to sink their teeth in.

Aaron Ashley Racing Post Sport Blackpool at home to Grimsby. The Seasiders were beaten on their trip to Luton, but Kenilworth Road is never an easy place to go, and Grimsby are a step down in class. Gary Bowyer’s men have the playoffs in sight and are unbeaten in eight home league matches. The Mariners have lost six of their last seven on their travels, failing to score in five of them.

Michael Bowers Paddy Power Everton -1 on the handicap against Leicester tomorrow. Everton looked decent against Manchester United on Tuesday and I can’t see Leicester fielding a full-strength squad three days before they travel to Madrid in the Champions League.

Michael Cox Tactics expert Andy Carroll to score first for West Ham against Swansea. Swansea don’t defend crosses well, and earlier this season they allowed West Brom’s Salomon Rondon to score a hat-trick of headers against them. Carroll, a similar target man, should be licking his lips.

Didi Hamann Liverpool Legend West Ham can ease their relegation worries with an important home win against Swansea. I can’t see the Hammers still being in trouble at the end of the season. Swansea will be low after their late collapse against Tottenham. Fair enough they dropped two points by conceding the equaliser, but to take nothing at all from it after conceding two more was poor.

Which favourites look most vulnerable?

PA MK Dons are slap bang in the middle of nowhere in Sky Bet League One and have earned their place in the division for next season by seeing off some lowly sides. Swindon appear to be fighting harder than some of their rivals, though, and will fancy their chances of getting at least a point at home after valuable victories over Millwall and Fleetwood.

AA Norwich shouldn’t be odds-on against in-form Reading. The Canaries are toiling, having won just one of their last nine matches, and with promotion looking out of the question they’ll be turning their attention to next season. They carry an attacking threat but Huddersfield found it easy to break them down in their 3-0 midweek win.

MB Arsenal away at Crystal Palace. Petr Cech is still out and second-choice keeper David Ospina is also a doubt. Palace were on a run of four straight wins before losing at Southampton on Wednesday. Christian Benteke has scored four goals in his last three games for club and country and I can see him testing the Gunners keeper.

MC I wouldn’t back Arsenal at odds-on at Crystal Palace. Arsene Wenger’s side still aren’t playing well, and the combination of Christian Benteke’s height and Wilfried Zaha’s speed could cause them real problems on Monday night.

DH Liverpool still can’t be trusted,as they showed once more against Bournemouth, but Chelsea look the best lay for their own contest against the Cherries. Eddie Howe’s men will give the leaders a proper test and Chelsea would probably not see an away point as a bad result They will be happy just to keep their total ticking over.

Are Chelsea or Spurs more likely to drop points today?

PA Probably Chelsea as the market suggests (the Watford & draw double chance is 3-1 and Bournemouth & draw only 8-5) but purely because they are away and Spurs at home. Tottenham have dropped only four points in 15 home league games but Watford are a tough side who haven’t really had a tonking since they last played Spurs on New Year’s Day.

AA I’m not sure either side will drop points but if forced to choose it would have to be Chelsea. Tottenham have discovered a way to grind out results, even when playing badly, and they are chasing a tenth consecutive league triumph at White Hart Lane. Watford have gained two important wins but tend to struggle on their travels.

MB Chelsea. Spurs are the only team who haven’t lost at home this season. I can’t see them slipping up against Watford. Bournemouth are unbeaten in their last five games including away trips to Liverpool and Manchester United. I can see them causing problems for Chelsea.

MC Chelsea. Their recent performances haven’t been convincing, they’re not keeping clean sheets any more, and Bournemouth may out-pass them. Spurs, however, should ease past Watford with minimal fuss.

DH Chelsea. Spurs are going from strength to strength even without Harry Kane and I can’t see them having any problems winning at home to Watford. As I said before, a trip to Bournemouth is a tough game for Chelsea and they are far more likely to slip up today.

Where would Celtic finish in the Premier League?

PA In recent years I’d have made a case that their level (and that of Rangers in that era) would have been in the Championship rather than the top flight. But for now, and even allowing for the increased TV money if they played in the Premier League, they would be in the group battling to stay up, maybe 15th or 16th.

AA They have proved this season that they can be competitive against top-class opposition, holding Manchester City home and away in the Champions League, and they dropped just six points in the Scottish top flight. They’d struggle to battle with the top six over the course of a season but have too much quality in their ranks to go down. A mid-table finish.

MB Mid-table. I’d say they are around the same strength as Stoke or West Ham and they would find it difficult adapting to the pace of the Premier League. The step up in quality is huge and they would struggle when they are not playing against teams such as Inverness and Hamilton every weekend.

MC I’d back Celtic to be eighth, ahead of West Brom but some way behind the Champions League challengers. This is, by the standards of recent Scottish Premier sides, an excellent outfit and Brendan Rodgers deserves great credit.

DH Definitely in the bottom third. I wouldn’t make them much more than evens to be relegated, so 15TH TO 18TH looks about the right area.The likes of Southampton and Stoke have so much strength in depth these days that I can’t see them getting into the top ten, depsite their excellent efforts against Manchester City and Barcelona this season.

Will Leicester qualify for the Champions League semi-finals?

PA They might not but there’s definitely a value case for backing them to qualify, yes. Craig Shakespeare against Diego Simeone sounds like a mismatch but maybe that’s just inverted snobbery because the Foxes have responded positively to their interim boss. They finally look like the side of last season and they might not be done with Europe just yet.

AA I don’t think so. Atletico have been one of the dominant forces in European football and are tough to break down. Diego Simeone is a tactical genius and while Craig Shakespeare has worked wonders with Leicester Atletico have lost one of their last 21 home Champions League matches and may be able to settle the tie in the first leg.

MB No. I just can’t see it happening. Our punters are a lot more optimistic and are steaming into the prices for them to qualify. Atletico Madrid have conceded only three goals in their eight Champions League games this season and I can’t see Leicester scoring a crucial away goal at the Vicente Calderon.

MC No. They might have been capable of surprising a possession-based side with a poor backline – Barcelona, perhaps – but Atletico essentially play in the Leicester way but with better players and better organisation. Therefore they should prevail.

DH Yes. They are at least a great value bet to qualify at 4-1. They have players in their late 20s and early 30s who know this is their one big chance to get to the last four of the Champions League and they are playing better than when they beat Seville. Atletico are not the type of team to win by three or four goals. Leicester can keep the first leg close and win at home.

Give us a winner for the midweek European matches

PA Juventus lost for the first time in 15 games in the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final against Napoli, but still qualified for the final and they can give Barcelona a real test in Turin on Tuesday. Barca haven’t become invincible just because they produced a miracle against PSG and that tie showed they can be beaten by top-class sides.

AA Atletico to win to nil. Simeone’s side are defensively sound and have conceded just once in their last nine home Champions League games. Leicester stunned Spanish opponents Seville in the last round but doubling the dose against Atletico is too steep an ask. La Liga’s meanest defence are unlikely to hand Leicester anything for free.

MB Real Madrid look massive value at Bayern Munich. Get on them to win or take the odds-against offers for Real +1 on the handicap.

MC Juventus are an extremely disciplined side, and the prices for them to beat Barcelona in Turin look pretty good. However, I’m doubtful they would be able to hold on to a lead at Camp Nou.

DH Dortmund are going strongly and even though they have a tough league game against Bayern Munich today they can take a first-leg lead at home to Monaco. The French team have caught everyone’s eye but Dortmund should be able to show Manchester City how to handle them.

 

Their recent performances haven’t been convincing, they’re not keeping clean sheets any more, and Bournemouth may out-pass them
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