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14/12/2007 No.9
rendspotting Football
Dan Roebuck
Friday December 14, 2007
  United have the freshness to leave Anfield on the brink of title oblivion

Bookmakers are preparing to dismiss Liverpool's title hopes for another season. It may be only December but the layers already believe that Manchester United, 5-4 favourites with Stan James to defend their crown successfully, will nudge Liverpool out of contention if they defeat them at Anfield on Sunday.

One senior odds compiler admitted that Rafael Benítez's side will be pushed out to 16-1 to win the title should they fall to the champions, a result that could put them 10 points behind the leaders. Even a draw might see them quoted at double-figure odds for the first time this season - VC Bet are currently a stand-out 9-1 about Liverpool finishing top.

A win for United may not see them dip odds-on for the title. Arsenal, 11-4 with Bet365, are running them a close second in the outright betting and, if they beat Chelsea (9-2 with Betfred), the layers will clip Arsène Wenger's team in at least a point. United's odds would then harden marginally with evens my educated guess. Sky Bet are confident Arsenal will remain as league leaders after the action this weekend, quoting the Gunners at 4-11, with United 2-1 and Chelsea 50-1, to head the table on Sunday night.

The bookmakers are predicting another huge gambling weekend with estimates of £10m to £20m being wagered. As the layers are expecting plenty of two-way trade in both games, though, it is unlikely they will suffer any losses. One price that could bring a lopsided look to Sky Bet's book is the 2-1 they are offering about United winning on Merseyside. It could be worth taking as the champions have won on four of their last five league trips to Anfield. Liverpool are 13-8 (general) with the draw 11-5 (Boyle Sports and VC Bet).

Liverpool's win over Marseille on Tuesday may have been easy but the match will still have taken something out of Benítez's team while United fielded an under-strength side in their 1-1 draw at Roma the following day. Significantly this season Liverpool have won only two of five fixtures off the back of their European exertions; United, fresher and in arguably better domestic form, have won nine of their last 11 matches after a Champions League group match and look over-priced to win this weekend.

The draw at 9-4 (Coral) looks the best fixed-odds bet in Arsenal's match against Chelsea. The league leaders are 6-4 (Bet365 and Bet Direct) with Avram Grant's team trading at 11-5 (Bet Direct and Sky Bet). Arsenal have been without key personnel recently and are unlikely to be at full strength on Sunday with their two best players this season, Alexander Hleb and Cesc Fábregas, major doubts.

Chelsea have problems of their own, with Didier Drogba and Michael Essien missing through injury and suspension respectively. A draw, as four of the last six league meetings have ended, looks the value call. And a 0-0 stalemate (best at 8-1 with Sky Bet) is well on the cards.

A cautious opening is almost certain at the Emirates and buyers of the first goal of the game at 42 (Sporting Index) can be confident of collecting. The fact that over a third of Arsenal's goals have come in the last 15 minutes of their games coupled with Chelsea's struggle to score early against the top 10 sides this season (two first-half strikes in eight matches) also bodes well.
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