Luis Suarez is sure to be the player earning the most column inches ahead of Liverpool’s visit to Aston Villa in what could well be a fascinating tussle this Sunday.
Little of the text about the Uruguayan will focus on his goalscoring ability; instead, comment will be centred on the result of his Football Association racism charge.
Those betting on the first goalscoring market of Sunday’s clash might be attempting to judge how the hearing will affect Suarez.
Will the front man release himself from the negative focus by turning in a performance more threatening than the one that left QPR defenders in a spin last week? Or will this off-field distraction take its toll?
As he has opened the scoring in four of the 15 matches he has played this season, Suarez is an understandable favourite in the first goalscorer market at 9/2.
He is poor value though, as it is not just journalists and disciplinary committee members who have been scrutinising Suarez this week.
Alex McLeish is sure to have identified Suarez as the main threat for Sunday and Villa’s increasingly solid defence is enough to suggest that Liverpool players should be avoided in the scorers’ markets.
The Reds have continually struggled against defensively-orientated opponents this season, losing away at Stoke and Fulham while being held at home to Sunderland, Norwich and Swansea.
With McLeish’s intelligent tactics increasingly inspiring confidence, punters can benefit from odds that place just one Villa man among the six biggest favourites to score first.
Given that both sides have scored the same number of goals this season (18), and there have been just five goals over the sides’ last five meetings at Villa Park, a close match that either side has an equal chance of edging looks a likely scenario.
Darren Bent has netted five times this season, is known to keep his head in front of goal in big matches, and at 6/1 will rarely be better value to net first at home all season.
Bent’s odds might be benefiting from the fact that Gabriel Agbonlahor, who has struck three first goals this season, is absent due to suspension.
That is all the more reason to back Bent, with Emile Heskey likely to come into the side in his usual role as tireless foil and being unlikely to nip ahead of his striking partner and onto the scoresheet himself. In case you were wondering, Heskey can be backed at 8/1 to break the deadlock.
Stilyan Petrov is one of only four players likely to take to the field at Villa Park that boast a scoring record better than one goal in every six matches this season.
He is a long 25/1 shot on the basis of his miserable past of five goals in five Premier League seasons, but with a goal every 6.8 matches through his long career, Petrov’s three strikes this campaign might be enough to suggest that the 32-year-old Villa skipper is belatedly rediscovering his scoring boots.
All three of Petrov’s goals this season have come outside the area and more long-range opportunities could arise should Sunday’s clash be the expected tight affair.
The other man to have netted more than once every six matches on average this season (Bent and Suarez included) is Liverpool’s Maxi Rodríguez, newly returned to the side from an injury lay-off.
Should Villa hold things up efficiently at the back the Argentine could quite conceivably make the difference with some piercing runs and is decent value at 8/1 to score the first goal or 14/1 to score twice, should he start the match.
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