Swansea City v Reading
This is one where backers of Swansea will have to just write off the weekend as ‘one of those days’. The Swans conceded an early goal to Burnley and from that point onwards The Clarets pretty much had them where they wanted them and Swansea could do nothing about it.
However, that was a match, away, against potentially the best side in the division. Back at home and against a team whose early season form is beginning to slide back to where their performance data suggests that it should be, I am prepared to give Swansea another chance to deliver.
Russell Martin took the blame for his side’s defeat and performance saying that he had planned for the Burnley match weeks ago but had changed his approach because of the good form they had been in. Swansea will expect to be the dominant force in this match so Martin’s plans are likely to be similar to the previous weeks, albeit without Joel Piroe as a result of his red card on Saturday.
However, this bet is also about Reading and, in particular, Reading away from home. The Royals have lost the xG battle in five out of their six away games this season, by contrast, Swansea have won five out of seven at home. There had been a slight upturn in their performance data going into Saturday’s match but West Brom managed to keep them at arm’s length fairly comfortably and there are concerns about how sustainable their league position is with an attack that is light on options.
Before the Burnley match Swansea were cruising into the upper echelons of the league off the back of solid performance data. Reading, on the other hand, have been belying their performance data for a while and I see this match as one of the top eight sides in the league versus one of the bottom six. My suspicion is that if those positions were the case in the league table then Swansea would be lining up as much shorter than even money so I am happy to take that price.
West Brom v Bristol City
Well, who would’ve thought? The Baggies let Steve Bruce go and immediately go out and get their first away win of the season. One will never know what the result would’ve been if Bruce had been kept in post but if there is some new manager bounce style momentum then West Brom are very well placed to profit from that.
The reason that I say this is because whilst Bruce was in charge West Brom still had excellent performance data. Some of this will have been as a result of constantly striving to get a result, but the baseline is that West Brom are an ostensibly a good team and a fairly deep squad but the results haven’t been backing that up.
The other side of this coin is that Bristol City arrive with their own manager under a little bit of pressure. The Robins have had a very fluctuating start to the season, as have many Championship sides of course, but Bristol City are on the downside of the wave at the moment. Nigel Pearson has attempted to arrest the slide with changes of personnel but a change of goalkeeper hasn’t worked out with Max O’Leary making a strange mistake to set up Zian Flemming’s winner on Saturday. One must question whether the problem in Bristol City’s defence is more systematic or mental at this stage.
West Brom are strong favourites to score at least once. Taylor Gardner-Hickman’s performance in central midfield at the weekend was one full of positivity and if the team embraces that positive mindset then the likes of Jed Wallace, Matt Phillips and Grady Diangana are more than capable of creating some good chances against The Robins. Indeed, as mentioned previously, West Brom actually have the highest xG per match in the division so there is a degree of confidence that chances will come. Combine this with the fact that The Baggies have kept two clean sheets in a row and that forms the basis for backing them in this match.
Blackpool v Hull City
There is some strength of mentality about Blackpool at the moment. Michael Appleton will have come away from Blackpool’s match at Sheffield United with a sense of pride at how his team came back from 2-0 down and then held on for a point with nine men. There will have been a tinge of disappointment in that Oliver Norwood’s equaliser was so late to deny the win but there are so many positives around Blackpool at the moment.
Scoring three goals in back-to-back matches against two of the best teams in the division shows that Appleton’s system is beginning to pay dividends. The use of Shayne Lavery and Jerry Yates as wider forwards has been something of a masterstroke and something that the Hull City coaching team will have to put some time into stopping. Yates has scored four in two matches and the amount of space that he found on The Blades’ back post was surprising. Unfortunately for Hull, they have one of the worst records across the division for preventing chances (2nd worst over the last 12 matches.)
Andy Dawson is still in charge as things stand but there is still a degree of uncertainty around the future of the managerial role at Hull. Add to this the continuing difficulty in finding the right balance between the different personnel in the squad as a result of the huge recruitment drive in the summer and there are a plethora of issues that need to be resolved soon for The Tigers.
It feels like this is the chance for Blackpool to capitalise on their good form and Hull’s indifferent performances to get a big win for The Tangerines’ season. There is a slight reticence to go for a full 5 star recommendation because a change of scenario where a team performs so well as an underdog but when the tables are turned and they become strong favourites that the way that they attack the match changes in some way mentally. There is no empirical evidence for this, as far as I am aware, and so I am definitely happy to recommend backing Blackpool here but just at 4 stars.
Millwall v Watford
Millwall continue to carry that reputation of being a solid and dour side that give little away and are defence first. Whilst Gary Rowett is a very good coach in setting his teams up to be solid, it is clear that they have added some attacking skill and rebalanced the side to become more threatening in the opponents’ penalty area.
It is true that as the season has progressed the total xG in their matches has fallen, but across the season so far Millwall’s matches have averaged 2.26xG, 1.11xG for and 1.15xG against. Over the last four matches chance creation has remained the same for The Lions but they have brought their concession of chances down to 0.68xG. However, those matches were against Blackburn, Rotherham, Middlesbrough, and Bristol City. Now they face Watford, and a Watford under Slaven Bilic.
Bilic has changed the way that Watford play very quickly. In his four games in charge they are averaging over 2.5xG total per match. They are creating close to 1.5xG and, more importantly, they are actually scoring the goals too. The way that they played against Norwich at Vicarage Road, especially in the first half, showed the capabilities of a front line that includes the likes of Ismaila Sarr, Keinan Davis, and Yaser Asprilla. However, the key change that Bilic has the benefit of that Rob Edwards didn’t get was Imran Louza’s influence. Louza is a fabulous playmaker and prompter from deep, and he can push forwards and influence the play around the box. The balance in Watford’s midfield with Louza and Hamza Choudhury looks perfect to build a team around.
There are still some concerns defensively. Individual errors are still prevalent and the players in those defensive positions don’t fill me with confidence, at least until Francisco Sierralta returns. Even in the full-back positions Hassane Kamara provides so much attacking impetus but can still be exploited defensively and Dan Gosling had to fill in at right back on Saturday.
The overriding thought on this match is that both sides have talented attackers and both have shown more defensive frailty than might’ve been expected pre-season. The fact that the bookmakers have the odds so strongly towards the under 2.5 goal line here makes a bet on the overs very tempting indeed.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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