Crystal Palace v Liverpool
Saturday 14 February, 17:30
Live on BT Sport 1
Since prodigal son Alan Pardew returned to take the helm at Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace have lost just one game - a 0-1 reversal to Everton at the end of January. Apart from that, it's been fairly impressive stuff from the Eagles and Pardew, a veteran of an FA Cup final as both a player with Palace and a manager with West Ham will be looking to bloody the nose of Liverpool on Saturday teatime.
A big concern for Palace though is the continued absence of midfield lynchpin Mile Jedinak who looks likely to miss the game with the ankle injury he picked up during the Asia Cup. Although Joe Ledley and James McArthur haven't done badly in there, Jedinak's return will be a real boost to Pardew's side. It won't come against Liverpool though, and Eagles fans will be hoping Ledley and McArthur can win that midfield battle in his absence.
Liverpool's good run of form continues and they're now the only team in the top flight to remain undefeated in 2015. After a difficult start to proceedings this year there's a feeling that they've finally found their stride and again have a nice balance to the side that fared so well last season.
There's also an element of destiny with this Liverpool side and the FA Cup; much has been made of Steven Gerrard's final season in red and the fact that the FA Cup final falls on his birthday. Unfortunately for him and his team though, destiny doesn't win football matches on its own and they know they have a tough job ahead of them to reach Wembley this season.
Something that could scupper what looks like a fairly tricky assignment on Saturday is important personnel missing through injury. It's likely that the aforementioned Gerrard and Raheem Sterling could join Lucas on the sidelines, and that's three of Liverpool's most important players sitting this one out.
First question here is 'Are Liverpool value at 2.111/10 to win this game, away from home, against a team in decent form, inside 90 minutes?'. I don't believe they are and can't really jump on board that particular betting bus with any confidence. Coupled with the fact that the Reds have some important players out injured, they can't be a back at that price.
Thing is though, they're not quite short enough for me to lay them either, and so I don't really fancy a bet in this market. That said, if I was forced to have something, I'd actually probably side with Palace who are currently trading at a big-looking 3.953/1. The Draw is available to back at 3.65.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Tricky one, this. Palace's last three games have gone unders, yet two of Liverpool's last three have gone overs. The market is pretty even - 1.981/1 on Under 2.5 and 2.01/1 on Over 2.5. This is the kind of game that could be cagey; both sides will see this as a realistic chance of a trophy and won't want to gift it to the opposition. For that reason, it could be cagey.
On the other hand, Liverpool have the worst defence in the top eight of the Premier League and Palace concede their fair share. Moreover, neither side has a problem finding the back of the net relative to their league position.
Shown a Card?
Perhaps surprisingly for an attacking player, Jason Puncheon has been shown a decent amount of cards this season. More interestingly, they tend to come against better sides, presumably because he has to track back and defend more and it's not something he feels hugely comfortable doing. He was booked against Man City, Tottenham, Everton and was booked and sent off against Arsenal on the first day of the season.
This is a genuine betting angle - he will likely be a bigger price than an outright defensive player but is one of the most booked players in that team. Back him at the best available price (he should trade at around 4.216/5-4.57/2 once the market shows liquidity) to be shown another card against a tricky, pacy Liverpool.
Another potential card angle is Damien Delaney. He's picked up his fair share this season already, and will have his hands full on Saturday.
Back Jason Puncheon to be shown a card at 4.216/5 or better