Premier League betting preview: First things first for Manchester City and Manchester United


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The Independent Football

The Christmas period is crucial in deciding title races, according to Sir Alex Ferguson. Manchester City fans will just have to take his word for it.

Whatever the implications of anything that happens in the next two weeks, we should expect both City and United to approach Wednesday's matches with one eye on what's to follow and we expect neither side to put themselves through the mill unnecessarily. Our bets have been selected on a premise of how we imagine both managers would like to win their respective games.

If the two Manchester clubs both have it their own way, then entertainment could be in short supply on a night when there's no great preparation involved and the television cameras are plotted up elsewhere. Getting the points on the board is all that matters and with a minimum of effort would be preferable. Expect long periods of ball retention and earlier-than-usual substitutions.

And in both cases, it just so happens that the opposition might be rather obliging in terms of keeping the score down.

Roberto Mancini's men come up against a Stoke side that might be fired up by the memory of their FA Cup final defeat to the Mancunians back in May. The Potters did get a quick chance for revenge when they visited Eastlands four days after Yaya Toure's dagger to the heart but, exhausted from their exploits at Wembley, they were in no fit state to withstand City's tidal wave of euphoria having finally ended that 35-year trophy drought.

Now the memory of defeat is hardly likely to be eating away at Tony Pulis and his players in the midst of their own historic European adventure but he wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't raise the idea that maybe his team have a little score to settle and while we shouldn't expect the Potters to be playing like a team possessed, they might be a little more resilient in the face of defeat than most visitors, if or when they fall behind.

Stoke are currently on a run of four straight league wins and won't wish to undermine the confidence generated during that sequence by taking a hiding here. As such, we like the look of under 2.5 goals at 13/8.

Meanwhile, United travel to Fulham and they should expect few freebies from a side packed with bags of Premier League experience. The Cottagers have held Arsenal at the Emirates and beaten Liverpool at home in recent weeks, so they're showing an appetite for the big games and ought to be approached with respect.

As such, United might look to close this one out with a high degree of intelligence. That's presuming they force a lead, of course, but we see enough in their last four away performances to suggest they will look to continue an approach that has served them well by seizing the initiative early.

The Red Devils have taken the lead inside 20 minutes at Everton, Swansea, Aston Villa and QPR, and in the first three instances it proved to be the only goal of the game, so the logic behind a bet on the first half to be the highest scoring at 11/5  should be apparent.

Recommended bets:

2pts Under 2.5 goals Man City v Stoke at 13/8 (Stan James, Hills)

1.5pts First half to be highest scoring Fulham v Man Utd at 11/5 (Boylesports)

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