The good news – it’s another week of Premier League football. The bad news this takes place before yet another international break. Thankfully, however, it’s the last international break of the year and then we can get into domestic football until next February or March.
Before we consider this week’s worth of matches, it’s worth seeing if as I hoped I exceeded the measly two points collected from week 9, in last week’s action. It’s always worth going through the scoring system – three points for the correct scoreline, one point for the right outcome and diddly squat for getting it all wrong.
Sunderland 0-3 Arsenal (1 point – actual score 1-4)
Man Utd 2-1 Burnley (0 points – actual score 0-0)
Middlesbrough 1-1 Bournemouth (0 points – actual score 2-0)
Tottenham 1-1 Leicester (3 points)
Watford 2-0 Hull (1 point – actual score 1-0)
West Brom 1-3 Man City (1 point – actual score 0-4)
Crystal Palace 2-2 Liverpool (0 points – actual score 2-4)
Everton 1-1 West Ham (0 points – actual score 2-0)
Southampton 1-2 Chelsea (1 point – actual score 0-2)
Stoke 2-1 Swansea (1 point – actual score 3-1)
Well it certainly wasn’t two points was it, eh? 8 points is a very good collection for the week and getting a 60% correct outcome in the games was a pleasing response to 20%. When you consider I was cautious about Liverpool and United really should have thrashed Burnley out of sight that could have easily gone up to an 80% rate. Still, it’s back to business as far as the prediction thing goes for me.
Now, it’s time to see how it goes in considering this week’s worth of matches.
Bournemouth 3-1 Sunderland: “There are no easy games in the Premier League.” This is the mantra that all Premier League managers are obliged to repeat to themselves and intimate at every pre-match press conference. But then there’s Sunderland. I am not saying they are pushovers, neither am I suggesting they are a bunch of perpetual losers. What I am saying is that Bournemouth fans will look at this game taking place at home and expect a win. They are not the only ones. David Moyes must be wondering what he has done to deserve the side he manages. It is great example of the term ‘thankless task’. Being record breakers for having the lowest points tally after ten games is not the sort of record you want on your CV. They go to the Vitality Stadium hoping to do something … and really and truly it’s difficult to see how they are going to achieve that. No obvious change in their team, no obvious change in their approach, no obvious way of seeing how they can do what is necessary to leave the south coast with anything more than another result that sees them rooted to the bottom of the Premier League. That is not to say Bournemouth can take the game for granted, but the way Eddie Howe goes about his business, it’s unlikely they will approach this game with any complacency, especially coming off a disappointing result in their last game.
Burnley 1-2 Crystal Palace: This is an interesting match. An interesting match in terms of considering who could possibly win it, not necessarily an interesting match in terms of being interesting to watch. Burnley have made a better start to their season than most would have expected collecting seven points from Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United the first two were maximum points from home games. That means Crystal Palace arrive at Turf Moor knowing that a win is going to be a tough task. The home side should be very confident going into this game unbeaten in the last two league matches and playing well. The Dyche approach shows they have learnt well from the exertions of their previous season in the Premier League and on their current trajectory there’s no reason why they cannot believe that they can make a good fist of staying in the league this season. So why on earth am I suggesting that Crystal Palace is going to leave the North with three points? Surely they should be grateful to be emerging from this match with a point at a very hard place to play football thus far this season. There’s something about this predicting thing, however, where I look to buck the trend. Palace are not in a good run of form of late, but will be all the more eager to turn that around. They have the attacking threat to be able to get goals and have already won up North. They can do it and maybe this is the game to do it. That’s the main thrust behind believing Palace will do what the Merseyside teams have failed to do.
Man City 3-0 Middlesbrough: Insufferable. That colleague at work who got a win on the lottery. The woman who got to see her favourite niece and wants to let you know just how cute she is. And Manchester City fans telling you how they beat the greatest team ever. Don’t tell them that Barcelona had key injuries in defence. Don’t tell them that Barcelona could afford to take it easy on a match like this because they knew they would bring it when its needed. Just listen to them harp about how great they are and how Guardiola is their man to lead them to the promised land of Champions League as well as Premier League glory. Back in the real world, though, Pep will be more than aware that he cannot afford to take anything for granted as they host the team from Teeside. Boro will certainly not be coming to lay down and be trounced on by the likes of Aguerro, Gundogan and De Bruyne. They will provide stiff competition knowing full well that they are not the favourites for this match. They will come prepared to stifle the opponents play and hope for any counter attacks they can muster. They will put up a fight, there is little doubt about that. They will certainly need to do so. Yet for all the fight they can come up with, you have to say those names again – Aguerro, Gundogan and De Bruyne – also consider a return to form of Sterling and there is a defender’s nightmare to contemplate. City still are not convincing in their defensive displays, but when you have the ball and press as quickly as they do without it, there might be enough to spare them that aggravation on this occasion. The home fans who are currently insufferable will be looking for more reason to continue to be insufferable and I don’t see Boro stopping them.
West Ham 1-1 Stoke: The Potters are happy. Three wins on the bounce. They’re on the up and they’re playing with confidence and competence with results that back that up. Hughes rightly sees them as a team that’s meant to be in the top half of the table, so their points collection in recent games will give them hope going forward. Meanwhile West Ham are still kind of slumbering around the lower half of the table. They need to hit their own run of form that sees them winning more games than not winning. There’s little doubt looking at the manager and players, that they too will see themselves as a team that should be a lot higher up the table. The troubles they are having with their home ground is continuing to get headlines and the grumbling doesn’t appear to be subsiding any time soon. That is not the sort of set up you want as you prepare for the arrival of an in form side. The onus is on the home side to press forward, the onus is on the home side to be getting the chances. Hughes will know that to a large degree the pressure is more on Bilic than it is on him. That will suit the Welshman down to the ground. He has developed a team that prides itself on its robust nature so they won’t be easy to face. There be goals in them there Potters from somewhere and that’s just as well with the injuries and suspensions they carry with them. It’s for that factor that I reckon this match will end in a score draw, which will certainly favour the away side than it will those who are forever blowing bubbles.
Chelsea 2-1 Everton: This is one of the tough matches to predict. Sure, Chelsea are doing well in the league at the moment. Their dismantling of United and beating Southampton away gives them a great deal of confidence. The way they’re playing at the moment makes them a threat going forward and solid as a rock in defence. The players are buying into the manager and their performances are proving that. Matic who was criticised last season, is doing well this season. Cahill was having a nightmare earlier this season, but now looks assured. Some say that this system is suiting Luiz because he has two other defenders around him, but I would say the weak link has been Cahill who is reassured by the solidity of the defensive make up. That’s all without looking at how well their attack has been doing. Pedro has been something of an unsung hero in recent matches, but it’s tough to get room for attention when Hazard is picking up the form that got him Player of the Year a while back and Costa is a menacing beast up front ever likely to score a goal or two. That can appear somewhat daunting a task for Everton. There’s reasons to believe, though, that Koeman will not be afraid of this challenge. At this stage of the building work he’s doing at Everton, he will know what is expected of him and how to approach this game. He is no mug when it comes to Premier League football. At least in Gueye and Barry in front of Williams and Jagielka he has a platform from which to establish a defence to limit the chances his opponents get. If Bolasie hits his stride and Lukaku looks up for giving his old team a fright then there’s a possibility that they could do well at Stamford Bridge. This will not be the thrashing that Chelsea handed to United, expect it to be a much tougher game. This Conte character is clever, though and he has enough of what it takes to have the edge in how his team will approach this game.
Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham: This is the game of the weekend. The North London derby where the stakes are higher than they have been in recent seasons. Spurs enter this match looking to get back on track with the thing called winning a game of football having failed to have done so in the last couple of matches. They also could do with a win to close the gap on the side that are currently flying high at the top of the table only on goal difference yielding to City. That win would give Spurs a massive boost going into the international break. You look at their side and despite the lack of Kane this team are well drilled and disciplined and have good performances in them. They are not a poor side overnight and they remain the only side yet to suffer defeat in the Premier League this season. I would say, though, that the favourites will be the home team. There’s an argument to be made that Arsenal are the form team in the Premier League. They have players on form all over the pitch. They can feel more than confident of winning this match. If they hit top gear they could be unstoppable. It will be said that issues of form will go out of the window because this is a local derby and all that, but Spurs are struggling to score goals and Wenger won’t have to do much to motivate his players to live up to the occasion. This is why I see this being a home win and the only thing that would stop that from happening is if Arsenal somehow played underneath themselves. It’s not impossible, but this is Arsenal at home, Ozil is still getting plaudits for his wonders, people are getting used to Sanchez getting used to playing up front. There’s a steel to Arsenal so far that sees them winning games when it doesn’t always look as though they should. So this will be theirs to lose over anything else.
Hull 1-2 Southampton: Sunderland are the worst team in the Premier League. No doubt about that. Yet there is a team that has an even worse goal difference than them. That team are Hull City. When I think about Sunderland I shake my head and chuckle. When I think about Hull City, I shrug my shoulders and then shake my head and chuckle. After all, before the start of the season what were we saying about them? Weren’t they the favourites to get relegated? So why is it any wonder that they find themselves third from bottom. That’s Hull actually doing well all things considered. What is it about Hull that makes them so … incapable of winning games of Premier League football? The defence? The midfield? The attack? The manager? The lack of effective transfers to boost the team? All the above? Whatever it is will be coming face to face with a Southampton side that will be a little disappointed to have lost to Chelsea in their previous match. This is a Southampton side that have been doing well this season so far in the league. Not setting the world on fire by any means, but they’re doing alright. They will want to get back to doing alright and they face almost the perfect team to help them do that. Of course the perfect team would have been Sunderland, but Hull City are the kind of side who are generous enough to let the Saints leave with three points. This is not a gimme, though and the Saints will need to get into proper gear and remain disciplined in exploiting the weaknesses of their opponents to truly have returned to doing alright in the league. What’s that? Am I ruling out Hull City? Am I saying they have no chance? No, that is not what I am saying. This is the Premier League, they can win it, it’s possible. It’s just that they won’t.
Liverpool 3-1 Watford: Have you noticed where Watford are in the league? They are up in 7th place! They are only looking up to see City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and Everton. That’s not too shabby at all. They’ve kinda crept up into that position really, but it’s no fluke. The table doesn’t lie. They have worked hard to accrue the point that sees them where they are in the table and they will feel they can continue in similar manner to once more reaffirm their place in the Premier League for another season. Now if you had said something like that at the start of the season there may have been one or two raised eyebrows at such confidence. Yet Mazzari has done a tremendous job getting into the Premier League and adjusting so quickly and so well. All that good will and positive opening ten games will now be put to arguably their biggest test of the season so far. For something unusual is happening at Anfield. The argument was that it was against the lesser teams that Liverpool would struggle after going unbeaten against United, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea. Yet the only team they have failed to beat outside those top teams is Burnley and that defeat looks more and more like a blip as they collect three points from lesser team after so called lesser team. The win against Crystal Palace last week should not be underestimated. That win away from home against a side they have struggle against n time past, continues their very impressive run in the league this season. An impressive run that few people would have expected of a side considered to be so inconsistent. Any football fan observing this will understand then that feeling in the back of the mind that there’s a slip up coming, the run has to come to an end at some point, the bubble has to be burst eventually and it would be typical of Liverpool to do that at home against a Warford side that some would suggest is meant to be among those lesser teams that Liverpool struggle to put away. With that feeling in mind, however, there is still the reality that says Liverpool go into this match as favourites. Sure that means the pressure is off the visiting team and they can afford to play as stifling a game as they like to keep the home fans quiet. Yet Liverpool have in their ranks players who can turn a game around in a second. They also have a defence that can concede in a second too. Yet the feeling is as much they may concede they still will tend to score more than they concede and Watford may not be the team to stop that run.
Swansea 1-3 Man Utd: Do you know the worse football fan to be in the Premier League at the moment? It’s not Leicester even though the Champions are off the pace. It’s not Hull or Sunderland even though their form is awful at present. No, the worse football fan to be at the moment is a Manchester United fan. Few fans would have demanded a Premier League title as a given in Mourinho’s first season, but they certainly felt a top four place was a more than reasonable expectation. Yet they’re looking up at Watford among other teams at the moment. Ibrahimovic was meant to be scoring the goals. Pogba was meant to dominate from midfield. Mkhitaryan was meant toe be on the pitch playing. All of those things have yet to truly materialise especially in recent games. They are on the second turgid run of form already this season where they have only won one of their last four games. Commentators are saying they lack confidence, observers are questioning if the manager knows his best team and system, the pundits are lining up to give the benefit of their opinion as to why it’s all going so wrong. Fans are wondering why the young players aren’t given more playing time. It is not a good place to be being a Man Utd fan at this moment. What they don’t really need while all this is happening is a trip to Wales to face a Swansea side who are getting used to new management with Bob Bradley. They don’t need it primarily because the man Bradley is all the more impatient to see his side turn up and perform and produce a winning performance. He’s desperate to do it. He has the swagger and confidence in himself to believe he can do it and just like Watford, he will believe he has the blueprint to collect a scalp in the out of form United side. When considered in this light, the score I am predicting may appear somewhat odd. Here’s the thinking though. For all the mourning and bewailing taking place about United at the moment, there have been more than enough signs that they are capable of turning a game in their favour. That Burnley result on last time out in the league was just bizarre. In any other match of that sort United would have run out comfortable winners. That is to say they have it in them, its just for that which is within to finally manifest itself in a game where they return with three points. That is this game. It won’t necessarily be pretty to watch, but Mourinho still know how to do the ugly well to emerge with three points and that is all that matters at the club at this time. They will do it, because they don’t want to make matters worse for themselves by seeing the insufferable City fans gloat at them from the top of the tree as the international break looms.
Leicester 2-1 West Brom: Leicester didn’t have the best of times in Europe, only managing to get a draw against Copenhagen when their form might have suggested they could have done a bit better. But hey, they’re yet to be defeated in Europe and that’s a positive thing. Their league form? Not as positive. Things have been a little better of late, they won two of their four league matches and drew another one, but it’s a fairly underwhelming defence of their title. Nevertheless Ranieiri still has a squad that is capable of getting a draw against a tough Spurs side and their last home match saw them comfortably beat Palace. Despite the injury to Schmeichel, City will go into their next league match feeling as though they are the favourites. They will feel that way because their opponents are stubborn old West Brom who are not exactly on the up. They have not won in five league games and they have lost their last two games. Now sure those two were against City and Liverpool, but it is a losing streak and getting out of a losing streak is not looking that much more likely when your next game is away at the Premier League Champions. We know Pulis will be keen to see his side retain some defensive solidity. We know West Brom won’t be that easy to beat. Yet we also know that West Brom are hardly oozing with goals from all corners and they won’t be the hardest side Leicester will face this season. This will not go down as the game of the year and it will not be competing for game of the weekend either. That won’t matter to Pulis as long as his side can follow orders, take on the training that they’ve been drilled on all week and then make life extremely difficult for their hosts. If they can do that to a side who are recovering from their latest European adventure then they can have hope of getting something from the match. What’s more likely, however, is that Ranieiri will look to lift his side one more time before the international break to do something pleasing to the team.
I am going to miss domestic football for the international fortnight, but before that is set before me, I hope I can see perhaps even more improvement on the scoring for this week’s predictions. These matches are not straightforward, but I can feel confident about at least getting one or two more correct outcomes from the games this weekend.
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden