Liverpool the favourites for what’s still the biggest club fixture

Arsene Wenger's title-chasing Arsenal go to Stoke City on Sunday
Arsene Wenger's title-chasing Arsenal go to Stoke City on Sunday
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Though these two heavyweights have, in recent years, frequently appeared on the brink of sinking to their knees, unable to rise from the canvas, the often fraught contest between Liverpool and Manchester United remains, in global television terms at least, the world’s largest club fixture.

Around one billion people will watch them lock horns at Anfield on Sunday afternoon, even though neither side has the faintest hope of claiming the league title this term.

Home advantage counts for little in this particular duel, but Coral install Liverpool as their 6/4 favourites to win, even though the Reds may not be able to field 11 fit players.

United, now used to being booed off their own pitch, will be conscious of their opponents’ injury problems and will revel in the opportunity to claim a fourth consecutive league victory over their biggest rivals.

At 11/5 (Winner.com), they’re well priced to offer a decent return on investment for punters too.

Contests between the pair are invariably tight and littered with red cards, yet they’ve drawn only one of their last 20 league duels, which accounts for the slightly longer-than-anticipated 5/2 chalked by Skybet against it finishing all-square.

The correct score market’s most popular outcome is a 1-1 draw (6/1, BetVictor.com), while a 1-0 home win is priced at 7/1 by Stan James.

Backers expecting a Sunday lunchtime goalfest, however, can get an enormous 22/1 (Paddy Power) against Liverpool avenging their comprehensive defeat at Old Trafford earlier in the campaign and winning 3-1.

On paper, Sunday’s duel between the Gunners and Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium has ‘away win’ written all over it.

After losing to West Brom in late November, Arsenal embarked on an impressive run that propelled them to the top of the league.

Stoke, by contrast, have been frustratingly patchy – playing well on occasions, yet slipping up when they were expected to win – although last weekend’s FA Cup victory at Doncaster was both timely and, typical of Stoke, hard-fought.

Nevertheless, it’s little wonder that William Hill price them at 19/5 to claim three points this weekend.

Look a little closer, however, and it’s possible to see why this is no foregone conclusion.

Stoke have actually won three and drawn two of their last five home league contests against Arsenal. Arsene Wenger’s men might be Skybet’s 10/11 favourites, but shrewder punters are not anticipating a walkover.

Stoke won 3-2 when the sides met in last season’s corresponding fixture, although Olivier Giroud is bet365’s 9/2 favourite to open the scoring on Sunday, with Stan James chalking 6/1 about a 1-0 victory for the Gunners.

Given abundant evidence of the pair’s recent defensive solidity, however, BetVictor’s 5/6 for the match to yield fewer than 2.5 goals looks decent value, while the 6/4 Ladbrokes offer against Arsenal retaining a clean sheet has, not surprisingly, proved extremely popular.

In other markets, Paddy Power rate the chances of the Gunners securing maximum points without conceding to be a 15/8 shot and bet365 post 3/1 in favour of them enjoying a one goal margin of victory.

With Arsenal chasing the league title and Stoke harbouring realistic hopes of securing a Europa League berth, it seems reasonable to assume that punters can expect a defensively tight approach from both sides.

Such an assessment complements the appeal of Stan James’s 5/2 odds posted about the draw and of BetVictor’s 7/2 for Arsenal to win following a drawn first half.

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Recommended bets

Liverpool to win by a one-goal margin: 3/1 (Stan James)

A penalty to be awarded in the Liverpool v Man Utd match: 16/5 (Paddy Power)

A player to be sent off in the Liverpool v Man Utd match: 5/2 (bet365)

Last week

Willian to score for Chelsea at any time during the 90 minutes: 15/8, Coral No

Chelsea to keep a clean sheet: 10/11, Skybet Yes

Spurs v Leicester to produce more than 3.5 goals: 2/1, Ladbrokes Yes