Watford v Millwall
January lurks just around the corner, and with it will come another month of Watford fans hoping they can keep their stars under lock and key. The Hornets sit inside the play-off places this Boxing Day in fourth, a seven point gap between them and second place Sheffield United. For manager Slaven Bilić to keep his team challenging for those automatic places, his strongest assets need to remain at Vicarage Road beyond the upcoming window.
There may not be a bigger asset to Watford right now than João Pedro, the 21-year-old Brazilian being regarded as possibly one of the best players the club have ever had. Pedro provided both the goals in a 2-0 win at Huddersfield Town last Saturday, playing in attacking midfield as part of a frontline that included Ismaïla Sarr, returning from World Cup duty with Senegal, and spearheaded by physical striker Keinan Davis. Midfielder Tom Dele-Bashiru, in only his second full 90 since returning from injury, also caught the eye alongside new signing Juninho Bacuna. The latter is a 31-year-old Curacao International who has been a welcome addition given Watford’s low senior midfield numbers.
Watford’s opponents in their mid-day Boxing Day clash are Millwall, one of a large group of teams within touching distance of the play-off places. The Lions sat inside the top six before the World Cup break, but since returning to action have suffered a 3-0 defeat away at Sunderland a picked up a 1-1 draw with relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic. Dutch midfielder Zian Flemming continues to look a key figure in Gary Rowett’s 4-2-3-1, playing in an advanced role behind striker Tom Bradshaw which allows him to demonstrate this strong shooting ability from range. Andreas Voglsammer, Mason Bennett and George Honeyman are among the players who provide wide support as part of the frontline, supported further back by Murray Wallace and Danny McNamara in left and right back roles respectively.
Millwall are a strong Championship outfit, with ambitions of a play-off finish. The Lions have a poor record away from the Den however; only bottom club Huddersfield Town have collected fewer points on the road than Millwall’s total of nine. Up against a Watford team that for now at least has its star assets in form, the test could well prove too strong for Rowett’s team.
Sunderland v Blackburn
Sunderland’s relatively poor home record since their return to the Championship this season was mentioned in this column last time out, however, there are solid reasons to back them in this situation at a decent odds-against price.
The Black Cats have won three of their eleven home matches so far, but have still produced a positive goal difference, and even more impressively, their expected goal difference, a measure of chances created and conceded, is even more positive at +3.4 in their favour. This tells us that, on balance, Sunderland have probably been slightly unfortunate to have the record that they have.
The vociferous home support can be a real driving force at the club during good times, however, there are pockets of support alongside pockets of uncertainty in the Stadium of Light at the moment. Tony Mowbray has been in charge for a couple of months now and results have been fairly inconsistent. This is Sunderland’s first season back in the second tier after four in the third tier, so it seems a tough ask to automatically be one of the best teams in the Championship. Also, one must bear in mind that Mowbray was without both choice strikers, Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms, due to injury, for almost every match of his tenure so far.
Stewart should play at least some part in this match, having scored last week. Ellis Simms is back up to full fitness now but Sunderland have lost a key figure in defence though with Danny Batth ruled out for a while. Bailey Wright should be ready for a return after his World Cup run with Australia to help with that absence though.
Blackburn really are continuing to run hot. They sit bottom of the league for xG, a stat that only worsens when considering away form only. Rovers also sit second to bottom of the division for touches in the final third, which goes a long way to explaining their difficulties. A lot of Rovers’ possession is in their own half or middle third without too much of a threat. However, they are very proficient on the counter attack, as demonstrated against Norwich last Saturday. That match was an example of Rovers’ fortune as it was set up perfectly for them by a freak own goal early in the match.
Rovers have still yet to draw a match in the league, or indeed score or concede an equaliser in their games, This serves to show the importance of the first goal here.
Rotherham v Stoke
This bet is primarily based on an anti-Rotherham stance. I backed them to survive before the season started, but much has changed for The Millers since then. Matt Taylor coming in to replace Paul Warne has not yet been an unqualified success. Taylor definitely has a different preferred style to Warne and would like to adapt things more to his own strengths, but this is a squad that has been built over many years by Warne and his team to play the way that more direct style.
It is also becoming more evident that the losses of Michael Smith and Michael Ihiekwe were pretty impactful on the squad. Rotherham are performing as the poorest team in the league at the moment, their performance data is shockingly bad. This is despite still occupying a position in the table outside of the drop zone, this may be slightly inflating their chances some what.
Stoke aren’t quite the model of consistency that one my look for when looking to take advantage of a poor team. However, they travelled to Bristol City in their last match and put in a good performance to take away all three points.
After looking for a way to partner Liam Delap and Dwight Gayle, Alex Neil appears to have settled on a slightly more flexible approach with Delap ploughing a lone furrow up front with support from three in behind. This has seemed to have them more structure and a comfortable platform from which to press and win the ball back quickly when required. Delap is showing signs of coming to terms with the league and for a young player in his first loan, shows flashes of good forward play and gives the Stoke attack a focal point to play off.
I believe that Stoke are simply the better football team, and the prices do reflect that. However, there is still some value in taking Stoke at an odds against price.
Cardiff v QPR
Though we are but one match into the tenure of Neil Critchley as QPR boss we can be fairly confident of what he will bring to the bunch of players. Going to Deepdale last week was a fairly tough baptism for the new boss but the 4-3-3 set up matched Preston and they were impressively organised in all areas of the pitch.
The key for QPR at the moment is keeping that shape and solidity whilst getting the most out of their exciting attacking players. The squad seems to be well set-up for Critchley in most areas with a functional central forward in Lyndon Dykes, flair, athleticism and creativity in the wide forwards and a variety of options in the midfield. One of whom is Tim Iroegbunam, the Aston Villa loanee has become an increasingly important tool for Rangers this season and is a player who can start in the Premier League and even play for England one day. The Cardiff midfield will do well to shackle him here.
Mark Hudson is just about coming out of his own honeymoon period now, and with Cardiff’s precarious league position (20th over Christmas) there isn’t a lot of rope there to play with. Hudson has tried to make change to improve their play alongside embedding those players that seemed to make an impact from the summer. In reality, it is goals and chance creation that is the issue, but it is proving a tough one to solve with the players that they use in the system that they play. Callum Robinson is the Bluebirds’ top scorer with four, and he also tops the assists charts with 5, so it is clear how much they rely on the former Preston and West Brom man. This is an issue when a team then comes to plan for Cardiff’s matches and can focus on denying Robinson service or creating some special treatment for him to stifle Cardiff’s attack.
The final, and most important, aspect of this bet is that we can get an odds-against price for QPR on the Draw No Bet selection. This pays too much respect to Cardiff’s home advantage, especially when QPR have demonstrated that they are capable of going on the road and getting results.
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Written by an Andy verified content writer
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