There is a world outside football.
It’s something worth reminding myself about because sometimes the whole world of football can be so self-absorbed. One result can change the way someone approaches their entire weekend. The cat gets it if they lose, the wife gets the new pair of shoes if they win, no one gets anything for a draw. We’re at the stage now of being virtually one third of the way through the league campaign. Excuses about still settling in and all of that are beginning to wear a little thin. Results and performances are beginning to take on a more important spin. In that mix it’s time to consider how the teams are doing in the Premier League and consider what they’re likely to do in this weekend’s schedule of fixtures.
First, as ever, let’s see how I did with this predicting thing on the last week’s set of games. Making the exercise all the more worthwhile the points system operates exactly the footie. Three points for a correct scoreline – cos that right there’s a win. One point for a correct outcome – it’s not all right, but it’s not all wrong, so a draw all round. Zero points for getting nothing right at all.
Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal (3 points)
Crystal Palace 1-3 Man City (1 point – actual score 1-2)
Everton 2-0 Swansea (0 points – actual score 1-1)
Southampton 2-3 Liverpool (0 points – actual score 0-0)
Stoke City 2-1 Bournemouth (0 points – actual score 0-1)
Sunderland 1-1 Hull City (0 points – actual score 3-0)
Watford 2-1 Leicester City (3 points)
Tottenham 2-1 West Ham (1 point – actual score 3-2)
Middlesbrough 1-3 Chelsea (1 point – actual score 0-1)
West Brom 1-1 Burnley (0 points – actual score 4-0)
Hmmmmmmmmm … Even split in terms of the correct outcome predictions. That’s an improvement on last week, but I prefer to be doing a little better. Two correct scorelines, however gives a better outlook on the scores with a much better collection of 9 points. It’s been a while since I hit those heady heights! Promising times.
Never resting on the laurels, though, it’s time to have a look at Week 13. It’s one thing to be recovering from the international break, but now there’s the delicious complication both of teams recovering from Europe, teams preparing for Cup matches and teams with the luxury of having nothing to do except stay in the Premier League. That makes this weekend’s fixtures an interesting set to predict.
Burnley 1-3 Man City: Burnley got thrashed at West Brom. I didn’t see that coming. I hear Dyche with his whole palaver of never doing well at The Hawthorns, but seriously, not that kind of result. Burnley have been a credit to themselves more often than not. They have certainly done well at home. The two losses they suffered were against Arsenal and an early loss to Swansea. They have played and beaten Crystal Palace, Everton and Liverpool at Turf Moor. That’s giving the impression of a stronger approach to their home matches. However it’s no sign of home relief to see that their opponents are Man City. City must see this match as an opportunity to impose themselves in the race for the title. Burnley are a side they must see as their inferior and then play to their standard of quality to win thematch and prove that to be the case. They would have seen enough in the games Burnley have played at home to see how they should be dismissing this Burnley side. They are not a surprise package anymore. There are pundits who are giving grace to Guardiola in his first team in the Premier League. They are suggesting it is still taking time for him to get his team used to his system. That kind of explanation won’t wash, however, if they fail to get three points in this match. Sure, Burnley will enjoy their position as underdogs, they can go about their business of setting themselves to be aggressive, competitive and making life difficult for their opponents. They can do what they need to do to make life tough and maybe they will. Beating Liverpool is one thing, can they beat genuine world class players like De Bruyne and Aguerro? Really? Well, that’s not what this prediction suggests.
Hull City 1-2 West Brom: Hull are not bottom of the Premier League. That must be a consolation of some sort for them. Not much of one, but it must be of some comfort. Probably. There is at least one team – and maybe just the one – who is worse off than them. Just when they thought they could turn their season around by beating Southampton at home, they go and lose to Sunderland. Let’s say that again. They go and lost to Sunderland. Sunderland. Not only did they lose to Sunderland, they left with a scoreline that made the Black Cats look like world-beaters. That is not a good sign. Nevertheless their home form is not as abysmal as their away form. They can at least look forward to this home fixture and know that they are not playing a top team. In West Brom they are playing a side who have their ambitions well and truly established – do not get relegated. Simple stuff. Where that’s concerned they have the ideal manager who can achieve that desire. There must be people in the area of West Bromwich who are still rubbing their eyes in disbelief at the scoreline after their match on Monday. If there was a fan who genuinely believed that team had four goals in them in a single competitive match of Premier League football he has taken faith in the side to delusional levels. Yet, so much for the delusion. It happened. They scored four goals. That could happen in this match because Hull are a lot worse than Burnley. It could happen. But it won’t. They’re away from home, they’re facing a hurting side, they are managed by Tony Pulis. All of those add up to them taking a far more conservative approach in this match. Hull won’t want to lose this match and it wouldn’t surprise me if they did emerge with a point or maybe more. It would be typical of this season for that to be the outcome. Yet I go by what I believe will happen and West Brom have it in their locker to win this game.
Leicester 1-1 Middlesbrough: I am going to go out on a limb here and make an astounding and astonishing season prediction. Leicester City will not win the league. Take it in. Go on. Ponder that carefully. Their form in the league this season has made me question if they ever were really the Premier League Champions last season. It’s why I felt particularly pleased to have correctly predicted their defeat to Watford in their previous league fixture. This was no surprise. Their league form has been poor for champions. In fact it wouldn’t have been that impressive if they had their typical season. Sure, give them the excuse of the Champions League and new players acclimatising to things, yet it’s their established players, the so called ‘stars’ who are not showing up enough in the league. Don’t believe me, remind me how many goals has Jamie Vardy got this season so far? Is he too busy recovering from his party? Middlesbrough will not take this match for granted at all. It’s away from home against a team who do know how to get results at their own ground. Boro are not in any position to feel they are comfortable in the league. They need to approach this match with the same level of a desire to work hard in the matches as a team. That approach in time past has worked well for them. It’s a strategy that will cause their opponents significant inconvenience. If they can also grab a goal or two there’s no reason why they can’t dare to dream about leaving the Midlands with something to be pleased with.
Liverpool 4-1 Sunderland: There are several ways to consider this match. One way is to be optimistic for Sunderland. They are riding the crest of a mini-wave where they have won two games in a row. That might not mean anything for big clubs, but for a relegation struggle those six points are priceless. That is momentum, that is a run, that is something to be motivated by. That is something that you can take into the next game to build a degree of confidence. They can do with all the confidence they can get for that next game because it sees them visit a ground where the last game played saw seven goals … six of them scored by the home team. Speaking of which, the Southampton result would have been as a positive last season. In fact getting a clean sheet for Liverpool is hailed as something to be applauded in a team where the defence gets the most criticism. Yet, what has made Liverpool being talked of as title contenders is their capacity to score goals and failing to do so was a bit odd for the team that has flourished in that area. In David Moyes they face a manager more than accustomed to the Reds. He will know them well as both a former Everton and Manchester United manager. Sure, his professional thing will be just about looking to win another game. Behind that, though, there’s that degree of wanting to get one over on a pain of an adversary. He will be desperate to keep the run going and giving his chances of a relegation rescue a massive boost. There’s a greater thought, however, that says that Liverpool will be annoyed at not scoring last week. An annoyance that they will look to take out on a team that may turn up to defend in numbers but won’t find an attacking force as toothless as Hull.
Swansea 2-1 Crystal Palace: Each week of fixtures features ten matches. Of those ten matches, there are games that are just too hard to predict even the outcome. This is among the hardest of the weekend’s games. Primarily because both teams are doing poorly. Swansea are now the worst team in the Premier League and there’s little to suggest that this is an unfair position to be in. It’s hard to believe this is a team that had done so well under the managerial leadership of the likes Rodgers, Martinez and Laudrup. The drop in their results and performances has even made the reign of Monk look better than it was – that’s not a knock against Monk, it’s just to say that they have fallen a long way since he left. In as much as the argument of still settling in is not as appropriate to the likes of Klopp and Mourinho, Bob Bradley certainly has a case to make. He is still in the early phases of his time at the club. Yet it’s quite clear that there has been little evidence of a honeymoon period or a boost from the new guy in charge. In fact the real concern is that there’s little evidence that the team are going to climb out of their current fate. They don’t appear to be giving any signs that they are going to do anything but fail to win. That’s not good. Then we come across Alan Pardew at Crystal Palace. The form of Palace would be odd if it wasn’t for the fact that they are managed by Alan Pardew who seems to make a career of a good start and a poor finish. I gather he’s not in the running for the title of greatest Newcastle United manager of all time because of his inability to get the best out of what he had. Likewise West Ham fans might argue the same thing. Now at Palace the team are in a run where they are finding wins hard to come by. This shouldn’t be the case for a side with the quality they have. This is a game I would normally say Palace have a very good chance of winning, but on this occasion despite everything that would suggest otherwise, I am actually saying Bradley could be celebrating his first win at Swansea.
Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham: This has got to be the match of the weekend. They are teams who are in a position to say they are fighting for the title. There’s the league leaders taking on the only team in the table that are still unbeaten. It’s a London derby. There’s no love lost between Chelsea and Spurs especially recalling their last league encounter which was the game that saw Leicester clinch the title and marked some ugly confrontations between the players. Chelsea took pleasure in stopping their London rivals in their tracks. Spurs aren’t the sort to be looking for revenge. There’s something about Pochettino that doesn’t make him out to be the sort who holds a grudge in this sense. He just seems more interested in seeing his side play as well as they can and get the results he knows they can get. They are already coming off a London derby that saw them pluck a win from the clutches of defeat against West Ham. However, after that, they crashed out of the Champions League and this match will be to see how they will respond to that. With Kane back they seem more confident in getting goals scored. They will need that too because this Chelsea team seem to be very, very reluctant in conceding goals. Very reluctant indeed. Their clean sheet record in recent matches is the kind of run that portrays a solidity that teams will struggle to penetrate. Spurs are as good as any side when it comes to being a threat on goal – though Kane needs to be on form. Chelsea are top of the league, however, because their entire team is running smoothly. Defensively they are strong and they are clinical going forward. Not just clinical but dynamic. The system Conte has them playing at a better level than they’ve played since Mourinho … the first reign of Mourinho. It’s why they are title contenders and more likely to win than Spurs, which this game will go a long way to indicating if they emerge from this battle with the win I believe they will get.
Watford 2-1 Stoke City: Just when the Potters thought it was safe to think they would carry on their positive run, they manage to lose to an out of form Bournemouth at home. That was such an odd result. Not just to lose, but to deserve to lose too. That’t not in the script for Hughes in his bid to get his side approaching the top half of the table. He will be keen to call that a blip and put that to bed in the next match and to be fair they have the players to do that. They have a system that can do that and if they play to their potential this match will be one they can quite conceivably see themselves missing. Why I don’t think that will work out in this match is their opposition. Don’t get it twisted, Leicester losing to Watford was no shock. Walter Mazzari has seamlessly moved to Vicarage Road and established a style of play that will keep them competing in the Premier League. They beat Leicester because they could take their home advantage and make it count and hassle and pressure the opposition when they needed to. That’s something that can be a real nuisance to any opposition and there’s nothing in the locker of Stoke City to suggest they are going to be different. Thus the home side should feel they can raise their game to meet the demand of who they are facing and give their fans a lift again by collecting another three points. That’s not to say that Stoke will make it easy at all and I can understand why some might look at a score draw for this game. There’s something about Watford, though, that leads me to think they have enough to get the three points.
Arsenal 3-1 Bournemouth: They play the game the right way. They play it along the ground. They are principled managers of the beautiful game. All of that kind of jazz will be played out as they two sides meet each other this weekend. Eddie Howe is touted as the bright hope for English management. He is linked with the England job and the Arsenal job at some point in the future. After all, when he was considering which club to join on loan, Jack Wilshere plumped for the club on the south coast. Since then he’s been hailing up Howe’s credentials. All of that, however, does not detract from what remains the fact that Bournemouth are a club plying their trade in the Premier League not because they are a Premier League club, but because they have played better than a number of teams to get to the top league and stay there. Their stay in the Premier League, however, is by no means guaranteed. The inconsistent start to the season indicates that they are still having a season where success is measured by staying in the league. Their passing on the ground lovely football is all well and good, but in Arsenal they face a team who do it a lot better. So they have to find a way to combat that as well as be fierce and competitive in this match. Meanwhile Arsenal’s performances of late have not been that impressive, despite still not being beaten in the league for a while. Drawing their last three games has seen some discontent rumble among their fans as they sense a whiff of Arsenal not living up to the standards by which they believe the club should be measured. They go into this game, then, knowing that first a win is a must and then to have a good performance will also help to get things back on track where the club are concerned. The home team should really have the quality to get the necessary result, but if a combustible Bournemouth show up they could well spoil that plan.
Man Utd 3-1 West Ham: The Hammers were left with nothing at White Hart Lane having put up a spirited display for the vast majority of the match. The performance displayed the raw material of a team that should not be talked of in terms of relegation battlers. It is still bizarre seeing them at this end of the table, not just because of last season, but looking at the team on its own merits, it is just odd that they are in the position they are. Yet, that’s where they are. To get out of there they cannot depend on luck and all that stuff, they have to continue to battle and scrap for every point they can get. They arrive at Old Trafford, however, at the wrong time. For the grief that Mourinho has received for recent results, the performances have genuinely merited far more than the outcomes have implied. Still, saying who they should have beaten from Arsenal to Burnley to Stoke does not put any more points on the board. And points on the board is what they desperately need. So we have the clash of two teams who really do need those three points. Where this is concerned, however, the home side find themselves having the advantage. Not just home territory, but the result in the Europa League reminded them that they were more than capable of doing that thing that helps them get those points. Four different scorers and plenty of others desperate and eager to score means that this home match could be the time where all those chances begin to be converted more often than not. With players beginning to come into form it bodes well for United from the Manchester perspective. This is not a clear cut thing, though. Bilic will not be rolling up to Old Trafford in any way deterred or intimidated by the team he’s facing. He knows that he has players in his team who can present a stubborn resistance. Plus if Payet shows up to produce his bag of tricks then they can emerge from this encounter leaving the home side frustrated again.
Southampton 1-1 Everton: Welcome back Ronald Koeman! Thank you for all that you’ve done. Please accept our love and best wishes as you continue in your management profession. The red carpet is as likely to be rolled out for Koeman by the Saints fans as a warm welcome would be offered to Wayne Rooney at Anfield. This is not going to be all that pretty and that’s not just because of a hostile reception (in as much as Saints fans do hostile). These two teams are still working their way into a rhythm for the season. They know they are not going to get relegated, but their ambitions are to finish securely in the top half of the table. Where that’s concerned they could do a bit more to convince themselves. For the Hampshire side, it’s to a degree understandable. They have adjusted fairly well to another ransacking of their key personnel. They are doing their best to adjust to the Europa League commitments. All of that gives Puel little time to truly place his mark, but he’s doing a fairly decent job. They did well to stop Liverpool from scoring in their last league match. This Merseyside team is not as prolific as their red neighbours, but in Romelu Lukaku they have a striker who is keen to score goals whenever he can. Everton, though, don’t have European excuses and their new manager was initially a welcome alternative to the last guy. Yet of late they have hit a little sticky patch both in terms of results and performances. What Koeman could do without is having to deal with smug South coast fans rubbing it in about how he has left for a worse team. Of course his professional approach says he treats this as any other game. Beneath that, though, there is the need to let his former employers know that he actually has taken a step in the right direction with a club more on the up. Historically Everton have the richer tradition, but all of that means nothing if a result cannot be garnered.
There’s a lot of tasty matches on the fixture list this weekend. I am in no way suggesting I am going to hit the big time with this set of predictions, but of late I’ve done well with correct scorelines and here’s to hoping I can get three or maybe even four spot on. It’s a really good time to be enjoying Premier League football.
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden