January 13 NCAA Basketball Picks

These are the condensed versions of picks for Friday’s college basketball game for Winners and Whiners. A link to the full preview is below, and confidence ratings are in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Northwestern at No. 2 Michigan

Side Prediction/Full Game: Michigan -12 (4/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/Full Game: UNDER 129 points (3/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/Full Game: 
Side Prediction/1st Half: Michigan -7 (5/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/1st Half: OVER 60 points (3/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/1st Half: 

Southern Cal at Oregon

Side Prediction/Full Game: USC +5.5 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/Full Game: OVER 141.5 points (4/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/Full Game: USC OVER 67.5 points (5/5) — LOSS!
Side Prediction/1st Half: USC +4 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/1st Half: OVER 65 points (3/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/1st Half: 

Today’s Record: 3-6-0 (.333)
Previous Day’s Record: 15-9-0 (.625)
January Record 66-55-1 (.545)
December Record 86-62-5 (.578)
November Record: 81-91-6 (.472)
Season Record: 233-208-12 (.528)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)             (0-0-0 (.000) in January)
2-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)             (0-0-0 (.000) in January)
3-Star Pick Record: 1-4 (.200)             (33-28-1 (.540) in January)
4-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)             (17-13-0 (.567) in January)
5-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)             (16-14-0 (.533) in January)

NFL DIVISIONAL ROUND PICKS

This is the condensed version of picks for Sunday’s NFL divisional round playoff games for Winners and Whiners between:

Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots

Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints

Wild-card round review:

Wow. I mean, just wow. Words really cannot do justice how wildly I let my ego run wild at my dive bar after rolling an 8-0 on Sunday. I was admittedly somewhat disappointed about my Colts-Texans picks, but after the Seahawks came through with a back-door cover for both the spread and the over/under, I felt a little better after Saturday’s games.

As a Jets fan who lives in Chicago, I must say the schadenfreude that came with watching Cody Parkey hit the post and then the crossbar was absolutely magnificently exquisite. More so when you actually post it on your Twitter time line before the final drive even starts. No really, go scroll through my timeline (@AlTruda73) and check the timestamp versus when the kick was made.

I’ll wait.

Anyway, all this self back-patting has set myself for an obvious 0-16 week for these four games, so the modest goal this week is 9-7 to beat the vig and have a still-impressive above-.600 percentage for the postseason. The full set of picks for the two Sunday games will come either Saturday night or Sunday morning.

Once more, THANK YOU for reading, and onto the picks!

For the individual games that have six picks, remember the 5/5 is simply the best pick of that individual game, not the entire week. 

Saturday, January 12

Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs:

Full Game: Colts +5.5 (3/5) (*I expect the Chiefs to win, just not cover) — LOSS!
Over/Under: UNDER 56.5 points (4/5) — WIN!!

Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams:

Full Game: Rams -7 (5/5) — WIN!
Over/UNDER: OVER 48.5 points (3/5) — WIN!

Sunday, January 13

Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots:

Full Game: Chargers +4 (3/5) — LOSS!
Full Total: UNDER 47.5 points (3/5) — LOSS!
Full Prop 1: Patriots UNDER 25.5 points (4/5) — LOSS!
Full Prop 2: Ekeler OVER 2.5 catches (5/5) — WIN!
Full Prop 3: Gronkowski OVER 49.5 yards (3/5) — LOSS!
1st Half: Chargers +3 (3/5) — LOSS!
1st Half Total: UNDER 23 points (3/5) — LOSS!
1st Half Prop: Patriots UNDER 13.5 points (3/5) — LOSS!

Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints:

Full Game: Saints -8 (4/5) — LOSS!
Full Total: UNDER 51.5 points (3/5) — WIN!
Full Prop 1: Eagles UNDER 22.5 points (3/5) — WIN!
Full Prop 2: Thomas OVER 87.5 receiving yards (3/5) — WIN!
Full Prop 3: Tate OVER 4 receptions (3/5) — LOSS!
1st Half: Saints -6 (5/5) — LOSS!
1st Half Total: OVER 26 points (3/5) — LOSS!
1st Half Prop: Saints OVER 15.5 points (3/5) — LOSS!

Hopefully, I’ve done well enough for you to not loathe me. Also as a reminder, this is how the timeline for NFL playoff previews on Winners and Whiners:

Monday night: Short lookahead
Thursday night/Friday: Deep dive preview covering both sides of the ball.
18-24 hours before kickoff: One last update based on line movement and injury reports.

One important thing to note: The format Winners and Whiners uses for Monday night only allows for a full game spread pick and full game over/under. Only HERE will you find the complete six-pick listing that I usually make with each preview I do. If that changes, I will inform you accordingly.

So follow Winners and Whiners on Twitter here (@WinnersWhiners) and follow me here @AlTruda73

Playoff Record: 19-17-0 (.528)

Day Record:                                  Overall Record:
1-Star Pick Record: 0-0-0 (.000)       Postseason Record (0-0-0, .000)
2-Star Pick Record: 0-0-0 (.000)       Postseason Record (0-0-0, .000)
3-Star Pick Record: 3-9-0 (.250)       Postseason Record (11-13-0, .458)
4-Star Pick Record: 0-2-0 (.000)       Postseason Record (4-2-0, .667)
5-Star Pick Record: 1-1-0 (.500)       Postseason Record (4-2-0, .667)
Regular Season Record: 197-181-1 (.522)
Total Record: 216-198-1 (.533)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          Season (0-0, .000)              Playoffs (0-0-0, .000)
2-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          Season (0-0, .000)              Playoffs (0-0-0, .000)
3-Star Pick Record: 3-9 (.250)          Season (139-128-1, .521)  Playoffs (11-13-0, .458)
4-Star Pick Record: 0-2 (.000)        Season (27-31, .466)            Playoffs (4-2-0, .667)
5-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)          Season (31-22, .585)          Playoffs (4-2-0, .667)

January 12 NHL Picks — Arizona at Edmonton

These are the condensed versions of picks for Thursday’s NHL games for Winners and Whiners. A link to the full preview is below, and confidence ratings are in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Arizona at Edmonton

Side Prediction/Full Game: Oilers -139 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/Full Game: OVER 5.5 goals (5/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Oilers OVER 3 goals (4/5) — LOSS!
Side Prediction/1st Period: Coyotes +0.5 goals -200 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/1st Period: OVER 1.5 goals -120 (3/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/1st Period:

Day’s Record: 2-6-0 (.250)
Previous Day’s Record: 2-2-1 (.500)
January Record: 16-14-2 (.531)
December Record 39-33-1 (.541)
November Record: 44-36-0 (.550)
October Record: 31-22-0 (.585)
Season Record: 130-105-3 (.553)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)           (0-0 (.000) in January)
2-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)           (0-0 (.000) in January)
3-Star Pick Record: 0-4 (.000)           (8-8-2 (.500) in January)
4-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)           (4-3 (.571) in January)
5-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)           (4-3 (.571)  in January)

January 12 NCAA Basketball Picks

These are the condensed versions of picks for Friday’s college basketball game for Winners and Whiners. A link to the full preview is below, and confidence ratings are in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

No. 1 Duke at No. 13 Florida State

Side Prediction/Full Game: Duke -7 (5/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/Full Game: UNDER 156.5 points (4/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/Full Game: 
Side Prediction/1st Half: Florida State +4 (3/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/1st Half: UNDER 74.5 points (3/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/1st Half: 

No. 16 Ohio State at Iowa

Side Prediction/Full Game: Iowa -2.5 (4/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/Full Game: OVER 147 points (3/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/Full Game: 
Side Prediction/1st Half: Iowa -1.5 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/1st Half: OVER 69 points (5/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/1st Half: 

Seton Hall at No. 21 Marquette

Side Prediction/Full Game: Marquette -4.5 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/Full Game: UNDER 151 points (5/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/Full Game: 
Side Prediction/1st Half: Marquette -2.5 (4/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/1st Half: UNDER 71 points (3/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/1st Half: 

VCU at Davidson

Side Prediction/Full Game: Davidson -2.5 (5/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/Full Game: UNDER 130 points (4/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/Full Game: 
Side Prediction/1st Half: Davidson -2 (3/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/1st Half: UNDER 61 points (3/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/1st Half: 

Toledo at Western Michigan

Side Prediction/Full Game: Toledo -6 (4/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/Full Game: OVER 145 points (3/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/Full Game: 
Side Prediction/1st Half: Western Michigan +3 (3/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/1st Half: OVER 69 points (5/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/1st Half: 

Texas-Arlington at Coastal Carolina

Side Prediction/Full Game: Coastal Carolina -6 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/Full Game: UNDER 142.5 points (5/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/Full Game: 
Side Prediction/1st Half: Coastal Carolina -3 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/1st Half: UNDER 67 points (4/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/1st Half: 

Today’s Record: 15-9-0 (.625)
Previous Day’s Record: 0-5-0 (.000)
January Record 63-49-1 (.562)
December Record 86-62-5 (.578)
November Record: 81-91-6 (.472)
Season Record: 230-202-12 (.532)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)             (0-0-0 (.000) in January)
2-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)             (0-0-0 (.000) in January)
3-Star Pick Record: 6-6 (.500)             (32-24-1 (.570) in January)
4-Star Pick Record: 5-1 (.833)             (16-12-0 (.571) in January)
5-Star Pick Record: 4-2 (.667)             (15-13-0 (.536) in January)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 22 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (16-0-5) vs. Manchester United (11-5-5)

The first real measuring test of how far Manchester United have progressed under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally arrives Sunday when they face Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Solskjaer has won all five of his matches in charge since the sacking of Jose Mourinho, but the opponents United (11-5-5) have faced have been, to use boxing parlance, tomato cans.

Three of the four league wins came against relegation threatened sides – Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United. The fourth versus a Bournemouth team who take little more than a passing interest in defence.

The Red Devils maintained their 100 percent record under the former Norse striker with a 2-0 victory over Championship side Reading in a third-round FA Cup tie at Old Trafford on Saturday. Solskjaer was able to overturn nine of his starters from a 2-0 win over Newcastle, keeping centre back Phil Jones and midfielder Juan Mata.

Mata opened the scoring on 22 minutes with a penalty after he earned the foul, and Romelu Lukaku scored in first-half stoppage time for his third goal in as many matches since returning from compassionate leave. With the increased confidence in attack – and with good reason since United’s 16 goals since Solskjaer took over match the total from their previous 10 matches in all competitions – the interim boss has promised to try and stay on the front foot for this contest.

“You all know the best teams in the league and of course we have to be aware of their strengths. But I’ve been brought up in a way that we need to attack teams,” he told the club’s official website. “I think that’s our strength as well, going forward and attacking, as a team when you look at us now the way we’ve played.

“We’re not going to get as many chances to attack against these (Spurs) as we’ve had before, so we’ve got to be ready for when we get hold of the ball and play well with it to make sure we use the whole pitch because Wembley is a decent-sized pitch as well.”

Solskjaer confirmed in-form and rejuvenated midfielder Paul Pogba will be available for this match after spending last weekend in the Middle East receiving treatment for a knock suffered against Newcastle, but centre back Marcos Rojo is in his native Argentina receiving treatment for his injury.

Most of the starting XI from the Newcastle match will likely be restored in this encounter, with the centre back pairing of Jones and Victor Lindelof all but certain since Eric Bailly will complete a three-match ban for his straight red card given in the win over Bournemouth.

The lone sticking point is whether Lukaku’s form warrants his first league start since Solskjaer took over. In the current 4-2-3-1 set-up Solskjaer prefers, Lukaku would likely lead the line and push Marcus Rashford onto the right wing, perhaps at the expense of Jesse Lingard.

For Spurs (16-0-5), this is a huge match on many levels. Manchester City’s win over Liverpool also resulted in the north London side getting a lifeline back into the Premier League race as they are now six points behind the table-topping Reds and two back of the reigning champions for second.

It also marks the first opportunity for the Lilywhites to do the double over United since the 1999-2000 season, a chance squandered with a 3-1 loss at Old Trafford in May 2000. Tottenham have not accomplished the feat since the First Division days in 1989-90, but having emphatically thumped United 3-0 in the reverse fixture in August in Manchester to exorcise some of those demons, this is a prime chance for Tottenham show they can handle prosperity and not be “so Spursy.”

Tottenham put some of that talk to rest Tuesday with a 1-0 victory over Chelsea in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semifinal. Harry Kane’s penalty on 27 minutes separated the sides and made him the first player in club history to score 20 or more goals in all competitions in five straight seasons.

“We’re in a good stage, we’re in a semi-final (Carabao Cup) with a 1-0 lead, we’re in the FA Cup and Champions League and we’re not too far off in the Premier League, although there is a long way to go,” Kane told SkySports. “So far, so good, but it’s this stage of the season that we have just fallen behind in the past so it is important this year that we step it up, work even harder and go into these games and try and bring it home.”

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino downplayed talk of how different this match would be compared to the victory in August, in which Lucas Moura had a brace after Kane opened the scoring with a professional header on 50 minutes off a corner from Kieran Trippier. Instead, the Argentine is expecting a typically tough contest from the fellow perennials.

“It’s going to be a very nice game. Always Tottenham vs Manchester, Manchester vs Tottenham, every time that we play are always exciting, very competitive games,” he said. “Of course this Sunday it will be a very nice game to watch. It will be tough, I think Manchester United arrive in a very good level, with very good momentum.”

This match provided yet another opportunity to link Pochettino with the United job, a position he has yet to offer a definitive answer regarding his interest. This time, though, the question was regarding Solskjaer’s motivation to win this match given he has already come out and said he wants to be the full-time manager of United.

“Of course when you’re a manager or coach you cannot be focused on all the rumours. The most important thing is the motivation that we have to do our job in our best way,” Pochettino said during his Friday press conference. “Of course Manchester is going to come on Sunday trying to win. Of course for him it’s a massive motivation or challenge to manage Manchester United, like for me it’s a massive challenge to be in front for this football club, Tottenham.”

Pochettino does have some selection concerns with the availability of centre back Jan Vertonghen uncertain. The Spurs boss does not lack for options at the position to partner with Toby Alderweireld – whom Mourinho coveted for United this summer – but if Vertonghen cannot pair with his Belgian compatriot, Davinson Sanchez is expected to continue in the role.

This will be the final match for winger Heung-Min Son in the short term, as the South Korea international will join his compatriots for the Asian Cup. Spurs and South Korea worked out an arrangement in which Son would join them after this match, something that has been a massive benefit for Spurs as Son has been in blistering form with seven goals and five assists in his last six matches.

Tottenham are unbeaten in their last six league matches versus United (3-3-0), winning the last three on the trot. United, though, did beat Spurs 2-1 in the last meeting at Wembley in April in the FA Cup semifinals, getting goals from Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera to offset an early strike from Dele Alli.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Spurs are 11/10 favourites to complete their first league double over United in 29 seasons, while United are 13/5 underdogs to maintain their 100 percent mark under Solskjaer. The odds of the sides splitting the points are just behind that at 27/10.

Oddsmakers are expecting another match over 2.5 goals between the clubs, with 8/13 odds compared to 13/10 for under that threshold. They also expect both teams to score in this match, with 8/15 odds United and the Lilywhites bag at least one goal compared to 11/8 odds either David De Gea or Hugo Lloris record a clean sheet.

Kane, not surprisingly, leads the list of first goal-scorers at 3/1, with understudy Fernando Llorente second at 9/2. Perhaps surprisingly, Lukaku rounds out the top three at 5/1, with Moura (6/1) and the in-form Son (13/2) just off that pace. United wingers Anthony Martial (7/1) and Alexis Sanchez (8/1) are next, followed by Alli (8/1) and then a quartet of players at 17/2 — Rashford and Pogba for United, Eriksen and Lamela for Spurs.

For goal-scorers over the course of 90 minutes, Kane is better than even money at 8/11, while Lukaku is the reverse at 11/8. In between is Llorente at 6/5. Moura is 13/8, with Son offering a slightly appealing return at 15/8. Martial is next at 2/1, with Sanchez and Alli again joined together, this time at 9/4.

As United’s usual penalty taker, Pogba is a 5/2 option, level with Rashford, Lamela, and Eriksen.

PREDICTION

After five matches, the first clues of what United are going to be all about for the next five months will start being offered with this match. On the bright side, Solskjaer has done everything he should have done with this stretch of schedule: instill a can-do attitude in the offence, have them pour forward and let their attacking talents speak for themselves.

Pogba has been at the heart of this renaissance, finally free to be the attacking midfielder he wants to be with Matic and Herrera providing cover behind him. He is not lacking defensive responsibility, it is just easier to have him in a support role doing so as opposed to counting on him to be the guy who makes those plays Matic and Herrera make consistently.

While it’s fair to say there is pressure on Tottenham in this match, they have done a good job answering to the self-administered pressure they put on themselves as opposed to what the outside world puts on them. Yes, the Wolves loss was “so Spursy,” but on other occasions — most notably their final three Champions League ties and Tuesday’s match against Chelsea — Pochettino’s men have emphatically answered the bell.

United have yet to get punched in the mouth under Solskjaer. No one knows that United are like under him when they trail because they have yet to trail since he has taken over. In fact, there has been only one match in the five they did not lead after the first half-hour.

No one has forced Solskjaer to alter his tactics since arriving at Old Trafford, and how Spurs play this game — especially if Pochettino throws the diamond midfield at them — wil be the first offerings of the Norwegian’s tactical acumen.

Given that Spurs have recorded three consecutive clean sheets, the hedge is the central pairing of Alderweireld and Sanchez remain for this contest.

United’s attack has done well to camouflage their one primary weakness — the back four. Yes they have their first-choice central pairing together because no one else is available, but Lindelof and Jones are not going to get much help if Son Kane, Alli, Moura and Eriksen are all running circles around Matic and Herrera like they were practice cones.

There is little need to go wide on United when you can overflow the middle and force Jones and Lindelof into making decisions. Alli could wind up making the biggest impact of all if he is able to carry to the top of the penalty area.

It is time for Spurs to stand up and be counted. And the expectation is they do just that at Wembley to keep it a three-team race.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 3, Manchester United 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 22 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (8-4-9) vs. Arsenal (12-5-4)
Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-9) vs. Liverpool (17-3-1)
Leicester City (9-4-8) vs. Southampton (3-7-11)
Chelsea (13-5-3) vs. Newcastle United (4-6-11)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 22 — Chelsea (13-5-3) vs. Newcastle United (4-6-11)

With multiple irons in the fire and a top-four spot to defend, Chelsea look to bounce back from a tough Carabao Cup loss Saturday when they host relegation-threatened Newcastle United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Eds note — replace Atsu for Muto on Newcastle left wing

The turn of the calendar year saw no let-up in the fixture list for the Pensioners, who were held to a draw at Southampton in their first league match of 2019. They followed that with a 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest on Saturday in the third round of the FA Cup as Alvaro Morata had a second-half brace.

Tuesday, though, was a different story as Chelsea (13-5-3) lost 1-0 to Tottenham Hotspur in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semifinals. Harry Kane’s contested penalty on 27 minutes was all that separated the London sides, with manager Maurizio Sarri taking heart in the fact the tie was still delicately balanced and Chelsea played far better than they did in a 3-1 loss to Spurs in late November in which they were bossed all over Wembley.

“We deserved more because in this match we played better than the opponents,” Sarri told Chelsea’s official website. “We were in control of the match and defended well against a team dangerous in the offensive phase, so we deserved more. We played about 70 balls in the opposition box against 11 balls of Tottenham in our box, 18 shots against seven I think, five goal opportunities against two, so we deserve more.

“So I am really disappointed with the result but very happy with the performance, one of the most important of the season from my team.”

Sarri had issue with the penalty awarded Kane, noting the original call of Spurs being offsides should have stood as opposed to VAR overturning it after Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga upended the England international. As someone who dealt with VAR while managing Napoli in Italy, Sarri dryly noted, “I think they need to study better this system.”

Chelsea already made a splash in the transfer market with the acquisition of Borussia Dortmund winger Christian Pulisic for next season, but for the January window, the London side are the subjects of constant speculation. Notably absent from Tuesday’s 18-man roster was Morata, with rumours of him returning to Spain with Sevilla bandied about.

There is talk of Sarri being reunited with Gonzalo Higuain, who is currently on loan from Napoli to AC Milan, with reports Higuain’s agent is in London to hammer out some sort of deal. Bayern Munich continue to be in pursuit of winger Callum Hudson-Odoi, who is making himself more indispensable to Sarri with each passing performance.

The good news for Sarri is two of the players currently in his squad – centre-forward Olivier Giroud and winger Pedro – should be available for starting duties after both came off the bench Tuesday. Giroud would allow Hazard to go back on the wing as opposed to the false nine spot Sarri has used the Belgium international more of late.

Newcastle United (4-6-11) could only hope to have such names associated with them bandied about in the transfer rumour mill as manager Rafa Benitez begins yet another window with hat in hand to owner Mike Ashley looking for any sort of reinforcements to help in the relegation scrap to stay afloat for a third consecutive season in 2019-20.

The Magpies have been linked with a possible move for winger Miguel Almiron, the Paraguay international who recently helped Atlanta United win the MLS Cup in just their second season in the top flight of American football. Atlanta is reportedly asking for a minimum of £24 million for the 24-year-old Almiron, who totaled 21 goals and 28 assists in 62 league matches the last two seasons, a figure that would finally break Newcastle’s transfer record of £16.5 million for Michael Owen in 2005.

“He is an amazing player, he was one of the best players on the pitch in both of the All-Star games that we played against Juventus and Real Madrid,” Atlanta United president Darren Eales recently told SkySports. “I have no doubt that when the time is right and the offer is right, he can be a success in whatever league he goes to.”

As Newcastle look to find reinforcements, Benitez must find a way to come up with points against the Big Six to aid in the relegation scrap. The Toons have yet to take any of a possible 21 from their first seven such contests after a 2-0 loss at Manchester United on Jan. 2. Some solace can be taken in Newcastle being a better road side than at home this term, collecting 11 of their 18 points (2-5-3) outside St James’ Park.

The expectation is Benitez will stay with the five-man backline he has used in league play for the last four league matches as well as the teams at the top of the table. Newcastle United will be without winger Kenedy for this match since he is ineligible to face his parent club, perhaps opening the door for Christian Atsu to play on the wing and move Ayoze Perez into a central playmaking role.

The ultra-conservative tactics nearly got Newcastle a point in the reverse fixture against Chelsea, who were gifted a 2-1 win when Newcastle right back DeAndre Yedlin deflected a shot by Marcos Alonso into his own net on 87 minutes. Hazard had staked the Pensioners to a lead on 76 minutes from the spot before the Magpies equalised through Joselu with seven minutes remaining.

Chelsea are 5-1-1 in their last seven versus Newcastle in all competitions and have won six on the bounce at Stamford Bridge since a 2-0 loss in 2012. The Magpies are a woeful 2-6-17 in their trips to Chelsea in the Premier League era, with the other triumph coming in the 2010-11 League Cup.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Chelsea are 2/9 favourites to complete the double over Newcastle, who are 16/1 longshots to beat a Big Six side for the first time in eight tries this term. The odds of a draw to give the Magpies their first point in such contests are 6/1.

Oddsmakers are expecting Chelsea to find a way to breach Newcastle’s defence, with 4/6 odds on clearing 2.5 goals compared to 6/5 odds on going under. There are 1/2 odds there will be a clean sheet in either direction, compared to a 6/4 offering on both sides scoring.

Unsurprisingly, Hazard leads the list of options for first goal-scorers, getting 13/5 odds to do it in both matches between the teams. Giroud, who may or may not start, is second at 10/3, while Morata rounds out the top three at 4/1. Chelsea, in fact, occupy the first 14 slots on the list for the first goal before there is a Rondon sighting at 18/1 along with Joselu. Hudson-Odoi is a 9/2 selection, followed by Willian (5/1) and Pedro (11/2).

Hazard and Giroud are better than even money odds at 4/5 and 5/6, respectively, to score at any time during the contest. Morata is again third at 11/10, with Hudson-Odoi (5/4) and Willian (7/5) completing the top five. Rondon and Joselu are again paired together, this time at 11/2, to score over the course of 90 minutes.

PREDICTION

What a difference a better performance makes. After looking like he wanted to run away and hide from the world after his side’s first loss to Spurs, Sarri was in much better spirits after Tuesday’s loss, and with good reason. The Pensioners took the fight to their London rivals for almost the entire hour after Kane’s penalty, denied once by the woodwork and also by some competent goaltending from Spurs deputy Paolo Gazzaniga.

This is a chance for Chelsea to reinforce what worked in that game, though it may also be a chance for Sarri to find out once and for all whether or not he wants to keep Morata or off-load him for a different centre-forward. Holding him out of Tuesday’s contest on the heels of a brace was puzzling unless there is a deal to send him back to a La Liga side. But given how Chelsea refused to let Cesc Fabregas leave for Monaco until Friday, it seems unlikely Morata will not at worst be on the bench for this game or possibly start.

Newcastle will be Newcastle in this match, which is every bit the backhanded compliment it is intended to be. The Magpies will defend resolutely and stubbornly, perhaps release Ritchie and Yedlin down the flanks on the occasional counter, but they will cede too much possession to Chelsea (again) and be suspectible to crosses in the box from Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta as opposed to the wingers given how compact the two lines will be.

It is understood Benitez is simply doing what he can with what he has, and it continues to be a source of frustration throughout Tyneside and the Toon Army given his coaching acumen in contrast to what he is given to work with considering the spendthrift ways of Ashley.

This match, as Agent Smith best said in The Matrix, “is the sound of inevitability.”

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 3, Newcastle United 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 22 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (8-4-9) vs. Arsenal (12-5-4)
Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-9) vs. Liverpool (17-3-1)
Leicester City (9-4-8) vs. Southampton (3-7-11)
Tottenham Hotspur (16-0-5) vs. Manchester United (11-5-5)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 22 — Leicester City (9-4-8) vs. Southampton (3-7-11)

For a man who has two of the biggest league victories of the season over Big Six sides, Leicester City manager Claude Puel appears to be treading on thin ice.

The embattled Foxes boss looks to keep the Midlands side atop the pack for seventh on Saturday when they host Puel’s former club Southampton at King Power Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Leicester City (9-4-8) are currently “the best of the rest” in the Premier League on 31 points, seven behind resurgent Manchester United. Seventh place carries the potential of a Europa League qualifying berth based on Carabao Cup and FA Cup results, but supporters were hoping for a deep run in the FA Cup after a respectable quarterfinal exit on penalties in the Carabao Cup versus current holders Manchester City.

Those hopes, however, were dashed with a shocking 2-1 loss at League Two side Newport County on Sunday, a side 74 places below the Foxes in the English football pyramid. Marc Albrighton handled a cross on 85 minutes that allowed Newport’s Under-16 coach, Padraig Amond, to slot home the winning penalty.

“A lot of disappointment and frustration,” Puel told The Times after making seven changes to the first XI that powered a 1-0 win over Everton to ring in 2019. “But it’s a cup game and we didn’t find the solution to score more goals. We have had a good team with eight who had played winning the title with Leicester. I don’t want to look for excuses.”

Puel’s man management has left him open to criticism that has canceled out the goodwill that should have been fostered with wins over Manchester City and Chelsea on top of the way he kept the side together following the tragic death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in October.

Puel and top striker Jamie Vardy – who did not even make the trip to Wales – have not seen eye to eye on multiple occasions this term, and leaving midfielder James Maddison on the bench until after intermission was another talking point in the Midlands.

“The good thing about football is that you get the chance to put it right as quickly as possible,” Albrighton told Leicester City’s official website. “We’ll aim to do that. We’re at home, so it makes it even better for us, we’ve got the crowd behind us and we’ll look to start well in the game and put last week to bed.

“We’ve had two close games against Southampton (this season). I know they’re probably a different task now with a new manager. They play differently and they seem to be playing with a lot more confidence.”

Southampton (3-7-11) are now three managers removed from Puel, who guided them to an eighth-place finish and a League Cup final in his lone season in charge in 2016-17. Mark Hughes was barely successful in keeping the Saints above the drop last term after replacing Mauricio Pellegrino, and now Ralph Hasenhuttl is trying to do the same after a miserable start this season led to Hughes’ sacking.

Southampton have improved since the German took over, but they did themselves no favours in the FA Cup on Saturday, having been held to a 2-2 draw at Derby County that will result in a third-round replay at St Mary’s. Nathan Redmond continued his purple patch of scoring with a brace on either side of halftime, but Tom Lawrence set up a goal and scored a second for Frank Lampard’s side in a three-minute span of the second half.

The match did allow Hasenhuttl a chance to observe more of Southampton’s younger players, with midfielder Callum Slattery making his senior team debut.

“I think he won a lot of balls from this position and also has the technique to look in front and give the last pass. I was happy with his performance and he showed he is always an alternative for me,” Hasenhuttl noted to the club’s official website about the 19-year-old.

Keeper Angus Gunn could be in line for a third consecutive start in all competitions after turning in a clean sheet in his first league start – a 0-0 draw versus Chelsea in which the 22-year-old made a pair of quality saves to deny Eden Hazard.

Up front, Hasenhuttl will be without top-choice striker Danny Ings through injury and Charlie Austin through suspension, with the forward being given a two-match ban by the FA for making an insulting gesture in Southampton’s 3-1 loss to Manchester City on Dec. 30. Midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will serve the last of his three-match ban for a straight red card given late in that contest.

Austin will miss this match and the replay against Derby County next Wednesday. The absence of Ings and Austin puts more pressure on Redmond to continue producing. He has four goals and two assists in his last six matches across all competitions.

Leicester City ran out 2-1 winners in the reverse fixture at St Mary’s in August, with Harry Maguire’s strike in stoppage time cruelly denying 10-man Southampton a point. Demarai Gray and Ryan Bertrand traded goals four minutes apart early in the second half, and the Saints played a man down after 77 minutes after Hojbjerg received a second booking for diving.

The teams also played to a scoreless draw in the round of 16 in the Carabao Cup before Leicester advanced on penalties after an 85th-minute goal by Southampton’s Steven Davis was overturned by VAR for a handball on Redmond in the buildup.

The Foxes have not done the double over Southampton in the Premier League since 1999-2000.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Leicester City are 19/20 favourites to bounce back from their embarrassing FA Cup exit and claim all three points, while Southampton are 10/3 underdogs to claim a road win and heap further pressure on Puel. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 5/2.

Oddsmakers are predicting a low-scoring contest, with 8/11 odds offered for under the 2.5-goal threshold compared to 11/10 over it. It’s a toss-up as to whether both teams will score or a shutout will be recorded in either direction with 10/11 odds for both.

In a bit of a surprise, the Foxes striker leading the list for first goal-scorers is Kelechi Iheanacho at 15/4, nudging out Vardy (4/1). A trio of Leicester players — Maddison, Demarai Gray, and Shinjo Okazaki are all 13/2. Long was originally among that group, but with his suspension, the top Saints to make it 0-1 are Shane Long (9/1) and Redmond (10/1).

Iheanacho is a 6/5 pick to score during the course of the match, with Vardy in close pursuit at 13/10. The aforementioned Foxes threesome are each 11/5 picks to score a goal while Long is a 10/3 pick. Redmond and Stuart Armstrong both check in at 7/2.

PREDICTION

This space finds nothing wrong with the Leicester supporters being aggrieved about a potential FA Cup run scuppered with poor man management by Puel in terms of the in-match moves. It’s questionable to not bring Vardy, sure, but Puel has been consistent in that regards with the striker — even at considerable angst to gaffer, player and fan base.

A must-win sounds harsh, but a not-lose sounds more accurate. The good news is there appears to be such a margin of error regarding this chase for seventh with a rotating cast of characters among Leicester, Wolves, Everton, and West Ham United that one loss — even to a relegation-threatened side in Southampton — does not sound a death knell for those hopes. But a loss definitely adds to the irritability of those in the Midlands.

With Hasenhuttl not naming a starter between the sticks at his Friday news conference, the hedge is Gunn is going to be the one on the top of the team sheet when it is handed over. He looked calm and composed against Chelsea, and while it was smart to give him his Premier League debut at home, at some point, Gunn has to start on the road.

Why not here against an opponent playing in front of edgy home supporters? Why not now, because Southampton have played better as Hasenhuttl has blooded the kiddie corps. The Saints’ lack of offence up front and from anyone other than Redmond will probably be their undoing in this match, and not having Maya Yoshida (Asian Cup) in the back is going to be a problem against the irrepressible and tireless Vardy.

This is a game where his graft plus Maddison’s creativity separate the sides, who have already played two very close matches this season.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Leicester City 1, Southampton 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 22 PREVIEWS

West Ham United (8-4-9) vs. Arsenal (12-5-4)
Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-9) vs. Liverpool (17-3-1)
Chelsea (13-5-3) vs. Newcastle United (4-6-11)
Tottenham Hotspur (16-0-5) vs. Manchester United (11-5-5)