Corner Picks' winter break is over! It's been nearly a month since the last column, but while the picks stopped coming, the soccer kept going. There've been postponements, cup tournaments, transfers, not to mention the Africa Cup of Nations, all of which makes it a little more difficult to handicap league games, but it's a challenge we're willing to face.
One of the bigger problems I've had is with the Africa Cup of Nations. With some teams missing key players -- Liverpool losing both Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, for example -- it's a lot more challenging to get a handle on how they'll look without them. Alas, we shall try anyway. Thankfully there are a billion matches this week to choose from, so finding three worth betting on wasn't too tricky. Let's hope getting them right isn't, either. All odds are via Caesars Sportsbook.
Manchester City vs. Chelsea
Date: Saturday, Jan. 15 | Time: 7:30 a.m. | TV: None | Live Stream: Peacock
For all intents and purposes the race for the Premier League title is over. Manchester City enter the weekend with a 10-point lead on Chelsea and an 11-point lead on Liverpool (though Liverpool has a match in hand). Saturday morning gives City a chance to drive the stake deeper into Chelsea's heart, and I fully expect that to be what happens.
The two driving factors behind that expectation are how Chelsea have performed against other elite clubs and how they've performed away from Stamford Bridge. On the first part, Chelsea have played six matches this season against Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Juventus (I realize I'm stretching the definition of elite with United and Juve). They've won only once, a 4-0 stomping of Juventus in London. They lost to Juventus in Turin and has managed three draws with Liverpool and United. They lost to Man City 1-0, but the expected goals (xG) in that match tell a much different tale, as Chelsea was "outscored" 1.7-0.3. And while on the subject of xG, Chelsea averages 2.01 xG per match at home in the Premier League this season compared to only 1.65 on the road. Thomas Tuchel plays a much more defensive style away from home, where Chelsea will be this weekend. Trying to absorb pressure against Manchester City typically doesn't work well for anybody. Pick: Manchester City (-145)
Sassuolo vs. Hellas Verona
Date: Sunday, Jan. 16 | Time: 6:30 a.m. | TV: None | Live Stream: Paramount+
Here's a shocking revelation for you: some teams play much better at home than they do on the road. Crazy, right? Well, this is one of those times when it's the case for both teams involved in a match, so let's try to take advantage of it, shall we? So far in league play, Sassuolo have allowed an average of 1.04 xG per match at home this season compared to 1.88 on the road. What's crazy is that despite the vast difference in those numbers, Sassuolo have had better overall results on the road due to what can only be described as "dumb luck."
This weekend we're betting on the luck to even out. Sassuolo's at home against a Verona team that isn't nearly as potent in attack on the road. Verona averages only 1.28 xG per match on the road compared to 1.4 at home and have managed only two away wins in Serie A this season. The caveat there is those wins have come against Venezia (17th place) and Spezia (16th). Getting Sassuolo at plus odds in this spot is some excellent value. The Pick: Sassuolo (+123)
Atalanta vs. Inter Milan
Date: Sunday, Jan. 16 | Time: 2:45 p.m. | TV: None | Live Stream: Paramount+
These are two of the most potent attacks in Serie A. Inter look poised to win its second consecutive Scudetto and lead the league with 42.8 xG on the campaign. Atalanta is third at 35.5 xG, but they have played one fewer match than AC Milan (35.8), so on a per-match basis, they're second. So let's just bet on two teams who score a lot of goals and create a lot of chances to continue doing that. It doesn't hurt that while neither are bad defensively, they aren't elite, either. Inter went on a run where they posted seven clean sheets in eight matches, but context is key. The one match they allowed goals was a 2-0 loss to Real Madrid. The seven shutouts were against lower-tier Serie A clubs except for a 3-0 win over Roma. They've allowed at least a goal in their last two matches against Lazio and Juventus.
As for Atalanta, nobody watches them to see the defense. The average Atalanta match this season -- across all competitions -- has seen 3.41 goals scored. Atalanta are constantly looking to score, and, as a result, they leave themselves vulnerable at the back. Most of the time, it works to their advantage, but it also leads to some terrible defensive performances, particularly against teams as good as Inter. Pick: Over 2.5 (-155)
This weekend's parlay is only three legs, but it pays +142.
- Lazio (-225)
- PSG (-450)
- Roma (-270)