Stoke v Luton
Alex Neil’s move to Stoke has not yet worked out the way that he would’ve hoped that it would. With The Championship being so tight and competitive, especially in the bottom half, if it takes much longer for Neil to settle in then Stoke could find themselves in real trouble very soon.
Whilst ultimately I do think that there is enough quality in both the playing squad and the managerial dugout to see Stoke steer clear of relegation over the course of the season, at the moment they feel very fragile, especially defensively. If there is one team in the league that you know are going to test out that fragility then it is Luton.
The Hatters aren’t red hot at the moment, this is true. However, there are reasons to support a slight upset. Luton and Stoke are right next to each other in the expected points table over the course of the season. They have goal threats in both of their front two, Carlton Morris and Elijah Adebayo, and the team has been moulded to make the most out of that combination. Their away form is middling but they are certainly not no hopers having won 3 from 8 xG battles on their travels.
The outstanding reason why I support Luton is the prices set by the bookmakers. Stoke are a bit short at approaching even money especially for a side that has lost four of its last five matches and three consecutively at home. When Alex Neil is unable to find a first choice XI that can find improvement then having this match where rotation will probably be necessary is a huge concern. The fans will be on edge as well, which gives Luton a great chance at turning the tables and putting the Stoke players under even more pressure. Taking the draw in our favour is a bonus as well.
Birmingham v Swansea
It is one of my stronger opinions at the moment that John Eustace’s Birmingham are a very good side. The positivity is growing around (three quarters of) St. Andrews right now as the fans can see clear progression and are getting behind Eustace’s vision.
The combination of the youth of players around the squad such as Jordan James, George Hall, and Jobe Bellingham, the recruitment of Tahith Chong and Hannibal Mejbri, and the rejuvenation of the likes of Harlee Dean and Scott Hogan demonstrates the vibrancy of the club at the moment. It also demonstrates that Eustace, and his staff, have an array of skills and ability to talk to players and use them in ways that bring the best out in them. Hogan has said as much in the media earlier in the season.
Swansea are also a good side at their best, but they have been far from that of late. Starting very sluggishly and fighting to get back into games is a very tiring and draining way of playing your football, especially in a competitive Championship with matches coming every few days. Taking an eight match sample size Birmingham sit above Swansea in the expected points table, in fact Swansea sit 23rd in the league over that period of matches.
Birmingham’s games tend to be tight margin but I do think that they deserve to be a slightly shorter price at home here. Swansea have won only three out of nine xG battles away from home, and this is a side that likes to dominate the ball where possible, which usually leads to an xG boost in the performance. Birmingham’s tactics may be ideal for taking advantage of Swansea here and I’m happy to back them at the price.
Watford v Reading
The bookmakers can’t split the 2.5 goals line for this one but I certainly favour the under for various reasons.
Whilst Watford have some sensational forward players they haven’t quite yet been able to gel. Mostly this is because there has been a change of management and also the fact that not all of them have been fully fit at the same time. At the moment Joao Pedro is playing in the #9 role and, in my opinion, he is possibly one of the best footballers in the division, which means that I think he is more effective when he has a bit more of a free role, rather than being the focal point of the attack.
Watford’s xG chance creation hasn’t been outstanding of late. Hovering around the 1xG per match mark means that they aren’t exactly storming the opposition’s goal down at the moment. However, neither are they as weak at the back as some might think. Spells such as the one that they experienced at Millwall a few weeks ago, conceding three goals in quick succession and also at Blackpool, have been put behind them somewhat. They’ve only conceded twice in four matches and kept their opponents to less than 1xG in all cases.
This column supported the under when Reading went to Burnley recently and many of the same reasons that were true then also apply now. This is a settled, experienced side that has instructions to play in a compact style and hit on the break. They have been adept at keeping the opponents down below 1xG, they have managed this in a quite remarkable 6 out of their last 7 matches, Reading are no pushovers despite their form dropping off.
The fact that they aren’t winning matches despite this solid defence speaks to the fact that they are struggling to find the net at the other end. Tom Ince, Andy Carroll, and Shane Long are capable of providing moments, but there isn’t the sustained attacking threat teams need to be successful at this level.
Cardiff v Hull
Cardiff at home are usually pretty rock-solid. They started the season simply not letting teams get chances against them and whilst that was never going to be sustainable in the long term, The Bluebirds still have an intimidating defensive record at their home ground.
Hull’s numbers don’t support a free flowing attack either. Their season data has them at lower than 1xG per match, so they are just not consistently creating the chances necessary to win enough matches. Oscar Estupinan is still up near the job of the scoring charts but that is built off an unsustainable early start in which everything he touched seemed to go in. Most of the imports that the recruitment team delivered in the summer seem to have hit the rocks for one reason or another and Liam Rosenior will have to make some tough calls to get an XI that he can rely upon. It is tough to predict how Rosenior will line Hull up at this stage, having just been announced last week, but his history with Derby was not goal-laden.
Cardiff are a good side when they are playing on the front foot. The more that they can use Jaden Philogene it will be a benefit because he looks full of skill and intent. Mark Harris is chipping in with some goals but Cardiff still look as though they miss that main striker that will convert some of the enterprising play into goals. They actually have a lower xG per match than Hull over the course of the season, but also a much lower xG against figure.
The pattern of the match will be set with Cardiff being allowed the majority of the possession but with the structure that Mark Hudson puts in place they are not often vulnerable to the counter attack. Therefore it is diificult to see where a lot of goals are going to come from here.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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