International football, then. Yeah. Anyway. That’s that done for the time being.
Moving swiftly on. The Premier League returns, thankfully. Lots to get the teeth into as we consider the games ahead. Before that happens, though, it’s with a touch of nervousness that I consider how the previous set of Premier League predictions turned out. There’s a points system at work which goes as follows: three glorious points for a correct scoreline; one acceptable point for a correct outcome alone; for getting it completely wrong there is absolutely nothing.
Bournemouth 3-1 Sunderland (0 points – actual score 1-2)
Burnley 1-2 Crystal Palace (0 points – actual score 3-2)
Man City 3-0 Middlesbrough (0 points – actual score 1-1)
West Ham 1-1 Stoke (3 points)
Chelsea 2-1 Everton (1 point – actual score 5-0)
Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham (0 points – actual score 1-1)
Hull 1-2 Southampton (0 points – actual score 2-1)
Liverpool 3-1 Watford (1 point – actual score 6-1)
Swansea 1-3 Man Utd (3 points)
Leicester 2-1 West Brom (0 points – actual score 1-2)
It’s a bit odd looking at it. 8 points – that’s exactly the same point total that I got the last time. That collection of points is decent. But the percentage of correct outcomes – 4/10 – that’s not good. I predict to give some leeway for a game or two, but six incorrect outcomes is not too impressive. But still – Hull and Sunderland winning – come on, really? Will wonders ever cease. It was sweet getting two spot on predictions, though. Ahhhhh yeah, when it hits that sweet spot, it makes the whole predicting thing worthwhile.
Onto Week 12 now. Predicting these will be interesting because there’s something about the international break that does something to the momentum of the clubs. Especially with those two poor clubs getting surprising wins it just shakes things up a little. It’s not going to be as straightforward to see how it will go because any previous momentum is not obliged to continue. For all that, though, I will continue with these here predictions.
Man Utd 1-1 Arsenal: This is an intriguing match for so many reasons. The Mourinho-Wenger thing. United needing to get back in the Premier League race. Arsenal not having the greatest record at Old Trafford in recent years. Both teams potentially missing a number of key players. How will Mourinho approach the game at home? How can Wenger get one over on the interminable rival who appears to have been the polar opposite for so long? There is something about the Arsenal way under Wenger that doesn’t give itself over to conservative football. If you have the players that he has at his disposal it is clear that their prime prerogative is to score goals to win games. Since their defeat in the first league game of the season, more often than not, Arsenal have been successful at winning league games. They have not been beaten since August. They are two points off the top of the league and their run has seen them face a North London derby and be disappointed at only picking up a point. That is the sign of a side who are not treating things lightly at all. Meanwhile at Old Trafford things have not been going as well. A number of comments made by Mourinho of late have given the impression that the problems at United are not surface issues. Fans have expressed concerns about the state of the club already. Yet Mourinho has something over Wenger, he knows how to get under his skin more with the way his team plays than with any sort of media hype or interaction. United will certainly miss Bailly, but there is enough tactical nous and strength in them to rise to the challenge of the Gunners. This will not be an easy game for either side, hence the impression that this might turn out to be a draw.
Crystal Palace 1-3 Man City: The games before this break would not have put Pardew in the best of moods. Looking at this fixture would not have brightened his mood much either. Yet, this is a Premier League game against Guardiola and you can imagine the bravura would have got a hold of him. He will see this as a chance to rub shoulders with the very best and look to pull one over the much vaunted Spaniard. To do that, however, he is aware that Palace will have to play a lot better than they have in recent games. A lot better. Concentration for the whole game will be essential so that they do not mess up as they did against Burnley having fought back to get on equal terms having been two goals down. They will have to raise their game and keep it raised to stand any chance against City. As for Guardiola he will be keen to get his side back to winning ways in the league. It was not the plan to follow the impressive defeat of Barcelona with dropping two points against Middlesbrough. These are the sort of games that City would be expected to win with this squad, so now this away trip gives them a good opportunity to reassert their credentials as the favourites to clinch the league trophy that has not decorated their cupboard for nearly three years. What works in City’s favour is the quality available in the key positions. The likes of Sterling, Aguerro and De Bruyne would be a nightmare for any team and now with Gundogan showing his worth to the team with some positive displays the threat is all the more magnified. It will be difficult for a Palace defence that has conceded seven goals in the last two matches to resist that barrage of power. This being a home game, it’s not for Palace to just put ten men behind the ball and hope for the best. In those circumstances City should let their superiority show in the final result.
Everton 2-0 Swansea City: Bob Bradley’s introduction to the Premier League has not been pleasant. Swansea were not doing that well in any case, but they have not shown that many promising signs of improvement in the games since the new man has arrived. Their league tally after eleven games is five points – three of those was in their only win of the season that happened all the way back in August. In their own way the Swans have been in a competition with Hull and Sunderland to see who can be the poorest team in the division. No doubt, however, Bradley will be doing his utmost to prepare his team for the trip to Merseyside for a clash with the blue half. His challenge is relatively straightforward – his side need to start scoring goals and stop conceding them and if they should continue to concede they should at least give themselves a fighting chance by scoring at least as many goals as they concede. You might have observed that what has been asked of them are the basics of the game of football and it is to their basics Swansea must reach to give hope to their fans. Koeman at Everton won’t take this game for granted, though. His own side are still stuttering with inconsistent results and performances. With talk going around about his desire to reinforce the playing staff that’s got to act as a motivator of sorts to get his bunch living up to what he requires of them. This is a very good game for players to prove to the boss that they are more than able to get the win and the performance to match. It is also a good way of completing the expunging of any residue from their previous league match which significantly dented their goal difference.
Southampton 2-3 Liverpool: Overall the Saints shouldn’t be too disappointed with their first ten or so games in the Premier League. As they have done in seasons past they have dealt with the departures and brought savvy both in management and playing staff. Puel has got the hang of this league and should have a better idea of how to go about his business. The last result against Hull will a little annoying though, especially having taken the lead against a team that remains a favourite to return to the Championship. Their next match, though, gives them a completely different challenge. From relegation favourites tehy now face a team currently sitting at the top of the table. There’s something about Puel that gives the impression he actually prefers being the underdog. There’s something about the man that gives the impression he would have studied Liverpool carefully and be able to cannily spot the weaknesses and have a plan to exploit them. They are in a position to pull off a win that won’t be a shock because the team ethos makes them capable of such. For Liverpool this match is their toughest since United visited them at Anfield. Yet there’s something about old boys returning to clubs to haunt them and in Lovren, Lallana and Mane the Reds have ghosts of the Saints past to put them some serious haunting. Beyond these three there should be enough quality in Liverpool to see them absorb the best that the occupiers of St. Mary’s can throw at them. Of course the Reds won’t keep a clean sheet – their actual defence isn’t awful, but it appears as though it’s part of Klopp’s entertainment deal to keep things lively by giving the opposition a fighting chance. Having given that chance, although they have a lot of internationals returning from across the world, Klopp will only be too keen to keep the good run going.
Stoke City 2-1 Bournemouth: Mark Hughes must be chuckling to himself. A month or two ago people were questioning his position. Was he the right man? Was he to blame for the very poor start Stoke had to the season? Now the team are unbeaten six Premier League games. A run that has seen them go from bottom of the table to 12th place a mere six points away from a top 8 place. To say the pressure’s off him would be an understatement. He would suggest they are a lot closer to where they should be in the league and the results and performances would support him in that assertion. Refreshed from the international break, his hope would surely be that they can make the most of the run in this home fixture. For in Bournemouth they face a side who have had a peculiar run of late. They have only won one of their last five matches – the thrashing of Hull. Yet that result seems a vague memore now and particularly compounded from their last result where inexplicably in a home game against the worse team in the league they managed to lose. Losing to Sunderland – people were wondering who on earth would let Sunderland beat them and Eddie Howe’s team won that unenviable prize. This is a run of form now that Howe will want to arrest quickly. No point in Jack Wilshere being happy playing first team football again if that football is not winning games or picking up points. This trip to Stoke-on-Trent won’t be an easy one for the team from the South coast. They know it’s important to emerge with something because after Stoke they then face Arsenal and Liverpool so any hopes of things getting any easier will go flying out of the window. They could do with a good performance and a creditable result to at least give them some foundation on which to face those two heavyweight clashes. Stoke, however, will have every right to fancy their chances.
Sunderland 1-1 Hull City: United v Arsenal arguably the game of the weekend. Two heavyweights coming to blows. As that’s the case then this fixture might be considered the lightweight encounter. Much as Swansea may be competing to be the worst team in the league this season, Sunderland and Hull City have cornered that market. Sunderland have been consistently dross. Hull’s fall from a good start has been a plummet so drastic that it really has reassured everyone who thought they would only be making a brief sojourn in the Premier League. Both teams won in their last run outs. A win can do the club the world of good. You can see both Moyes and Phelan going into the international break in a better frame of mind. They are realistic enough to know that the result doesn’t change their situation where the table is concerned. It doesn’t change the fact that they are in a relegation scrap. What it does, however, is remind players that when they are capable of, you know, actually winning a game of football. There’s something about meeting each other as well that eases their minds from the stress of facing a potential pummelling by a mid table or top of the table side. It will raise the competitive juices ever so slightly in both squads to know that they are facing a team they both believe they can beat. The onus will certainly be on the home side – first because they are the home side and secondly because Sunderland are far better at this relegation scrap than Hull. There’s a valid argument to suggest that the Wearside team should see themselves as slightly superior to their Humberside opponents. Moyes is certainly a more experienced manager than Phelan and will want to apply that to making the most of the advantage. For all that, though, these two sides areat the bottom of the table for a reason. The combination of overall mediocrity between the two should not make this a classic for the ages.
Watford 2-1 Leicester City: Leicester City are the Premier League Champions. Did you know that? Yeah they won it in the 2015-16 season, surprising all of the football world. It was an amazing achievement. They have continued the fairytale with a Champions League run that at present sees them on the verge of qualifying for the knockout stages of the illustrious European tournament. It’s all going swimmingly … except in the Premier League that apparently they won. There are two points separating Leicester and the bottom three. That’s no fluke. Whatever else you call it, this is not a good start to the defence of their title. This was typified in the way they managed to lose a home match to West Brom in their last league outing. Leicester didn’t use to be that loose and easy at home. Against West Brom too- that just wasn’t right. Yet here they are in a league position that would be what you would you usually expect from Leicester, but not with this team that did so well to win the league. Their plight in the league is well personified in the form of Jamie Vardy. He was the hottest thing a few months ago, but now when England strikers are being talked about he’s an afterthought. Still, as hurt as Leicester must be due to their league form, they are not smarting as much as their hosts. Watford were doing really well up until meeting Liverpool at Anfield. Getting beat at Liverpool is no disgrace, but conceding six goals … So Mazzari will be very keen to move on from that and get that out of the system as quickly as possible. He has done well to marshall this collection of players to maintain a team ethos that has seen them well more often than not. They can certainly turn on the stuff at home and the familiarity of Vicarage Road will given them a basis to look at this as a match not against the Premier League Champions but a group of players who are looking more like their mid-table to lower table selves. They’ll look at this as a chance to get three points and I don’t blame them.
Tottenham 2-1 West Ham: These two London clubs had a good season last season. They did better than they hoped. When you do better than you hoped it understandably raises expectations. So this season both clubs had higher aspirations. West Ham had those higher aspirations going into a new stadium and thus far have not done much to live up to those aspirations. so it will come as some relief that the pressure won’t be on them in this away fixture. They won’t be lying down to anyone, they certainly don’t want to get beat by a London opponent, especially Spurs, but they go to this match knowing they are not the favourites to win. With that in mind they can go out and stifle the attacking threat that Spurs have, keep the home crowd quiet and then look to leave with something, perhaps a point and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for them to nick a win. What helps them is how poor Spurs have been in scoring lately. At the beginnning of October they had that famous victory over City by two goals without reply. Since then Spurs have failed to score more than once in a game. Sure they can boast the only unbeaten run in the league, but that is not doing them any favours while their opponents around them are collecting more three points than they are. Getting Kane back from international duty early to carry on with the match fitness work will be a huge help. They can feel confident that if they can keep him ready for the match they should be in with a shout of changing that scoring record around. West Ham won’t be easy opponents at all, they will be eager to spoil any sense of an uplift in Spurs, but Pochettino has a well-drilled system going on with his team. They can pick up a valuable three points in this tie as long as they can impose their usual game.
Middlesbrough 1-3 Chelsea: Boro are no easy team to face. They have not been beaten in their last three matches. Of those three games two of their opponents were Man City and Arsenal. That’s not too shabby for the side promoted from the Championship. They have got some very impressive results with impressive defensive discipline. There’s a spirit developed at the club that bodes well for their chances of staying in the Premier League this season if they maintain this trajectory. They face their toughest test yet, however, in a Chelsea side who arguably are in better form than Arsenal or City. The transformation of Chelsea in recent games means their position in second place is fully deserved. Their deconstruction of Everton in their last outing was but a taste of what their capacity. As their fans drooled over the performance and victory their hopes have been raised and Conte is only fuelling that with his considered approach to the squad. No team has as yet been able to combat the new formation Conte has introduced. There’s solidity in defence, mesmerising pace and skill going forward and in Costa a man who is hungry to score goals. No one would fault Boro if they just looked to put a defence together that can deal with the threats around the pitch. Yet this is easier said than done. Everton found out that it’s one thing mimicking a formation, but it’s to have the players and the style to combat it that makes the difference. Boro should be wary of that as a response. Chelsea, however, will do well not to see this game as simply something they should just take for granted as a win. If they put their professional heads on and treat their opponents with the due respect the win that is predicted will come to pass.
West Brom 1-1 Burnley: Burnley Football Club are in the top half of the table. No. Seriously. They are. Ninth place. Look – it’s right there. Top half. Above the Premier League Champions. That looks good. Then you consider that they are four points away from the relegation places and that gives you the indication of where they are in the league. No room to think they’ve achieved anything yet. Yet at this stage they should be pleased to be doing a lot better than they did the last time they were in the Premier League. They are where they are through hard graft, commitment to the cause and working out that the total is far greater than the sum of their parts when they all chip in to do their task. So it’s with that positive and optimistic outlook that they arrive at the Hawthorns for Monday Night Football. Tony Pulis sees his side only a point behind their opponents and so should feel that his team are going as well as you’d expect them to go. They are not a threat to the teams better than them, they are not threatened by teams around them. Their Premier League arrangement seems to be working for them and in Tony Pulis they have the right man to keep things ticking over that way. They won’t be threatened by Burnley and with it taking place on their own territory they should be relatively confident that they could collect all three points. You know how it is, though, when you have two teams that are hard working, honest, diligent sorts with little in the way of creativity and flair then the result can look to be veering one way.
This week’s fixtures are not easy at all and as you can tell I don’t see that much in the way of goal-fests taking place in these matches. I have been wrong before, though, yet on this occasion I as ever hope I’m right more than I’m wrong – getting more than two correct scorelines will also be pretty sweet!
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden