The season continues without any sign of sagging and it’s getting real close to that hectic time of year with fixtures coming left, right and centre.
Before that begins, though, we review the games that took place in Week 14. The points system is straightforward – three points for getting the correct score, one point for just getting the right outcome and didley-squat for getting everything wrong.
Man City 1-2 Chelsea (1 point – actual score 1-3)
Crystal Palace 2-2 Southampton (0 points – actual score 3-0)
Stoke City 2-1 Burnley (1 point – actual score 2-1)
Sunderland 1-2 Leicester City (0 points – actual score 2-1)
Tottenham 3-1 Swansea City (1 point – actual score 5-0)
West Brom 1-1 Watford (0 points – actual score 3-1)
West Ham 1-2 Arsenal (1 point – actual score 1-5)
Bournemouth 2-3 Liverpool (0 points – actual score 4-3)
Everton 1-2 Man United (0 points – actual score 1-1)
Middlesbrough 2-0 Hull (1 point – actual score 1-0)
Yeesh. In terms of outcomes it was a straight 50% split. Half right and half wrong. Yet with the inability to gain any correct scorelines from the heady heights of double figures last week I plunge to a mere five points.
Wowsers what a week for results eh. Some teams are having a bad season and I mean really bad. Where one or two are doing better than expected at the moment. That should help influence how I consider this week’s set of fixtures. So let’s have a look at those games.
(Note: I am aware that there are games scheduled to be played midweek and a special set of midweek predictions will be posted on Monday.)
Watford 1-1 Everton: It’s interesting seeing which manager would feel more aggrieved at this stage of the season. Over a third of the games played, they are in a position to know very well the state of their squad and how well they will play. They may be eager for the transfer window to open in the next few weeks, but even then there’s no wholesale changes they can make to their squads. Everton in particular, though, will be a little bemused that they are still in a decent position in the league with the performances and results. Watford aren’t too far behind them as far as points are concerned. They are bothhaving mixed results, which makes this prediction a little easier. Watford might see themselves as slight favourites for this match only because of home advantage. They face an Everton side that has not kicked into gear as yet with consistent performances. Watford know they have it in them to produce a battling performance to claim the three points. Everton likewise have had one or two decent away performances that should give them some sense of hope that they can impose their superior quality over the Hertfordshire side. The way these two are playing thus far this season, I just see them cancelling each other out.
Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City: It wsa interesting coming across some previews for this match where supporters from both clubs are suggesting this is a different kind of encounter between these two clubs. Ever since Stoke got promoted to the Premier League they were high among those accused of bullying, harassing and physically intimidating the Gunners in their encounters. Now, however, Arsenal have a solidity in midfield that has been rarely seen for the last few seasons (by few some would say go back to Vieira which is ten years). Whether its Xhaka, Coquelin or Elneny there’s a midfield base that won’t be easily hassled off the ball. Add to that their usual sprinkle of creative ability through the likes of Ozil and the growing attacking threat of Sanchez and Arsenal fans are looking at this with a sense of optimism. Optimistic Arsenal fans used to be an oxymoron, but their position in the table and their proximity to the top and their last outing where they crushed West Ham without slipping into third gear is reason enough to see this as a match they should win. That looks like a writing off of Stoke City, doesn’t it? Do they have no chance? Well of course they have a chance. They haven’t gone completely soft, no Mark Hughes side has gone absolutely completely soft as long as he has his way. He knows how to mix it in these type of games and he has enough at his disposal to make the game awkward for the Emirates crowd. Yet looking at these two teams Stoke don’t appear to have enough to get enough from this match.
Burnley 2-1 Bournemouth: In 14 league matches Burnley have won four of them. That might appear a little shabby for some clubs, but for Burnley that’s a very good record indeed. It’s a record that currently sees them three points off the relegation zone. What’s also helpful about that record is that those four wins have all come at home. It’s useful seeing as though they face Bournmeouth at Turf Moor which should give them a confidence going into this game. They could definitely do with a win having lost their last three matches. That win will not come easily against a Bournemouth who are on a high following their impressive comeback to record their first win against Liverpool in the league. Their form away from the Vitality Stadium, however, has only seen them get one win. They will not see this game as one where they could easily pick up three points and will have to be at their best to ensure they don’t allow themselves to fall into a losing position because there’s no guarantee they can pull off the comeback again. Especially as Dyche looks to motivate his team to find the winning way again at home to enter the busy Christmas round of games with more reason to be optimistic of their chances of staying in this league.
Hull City 1-2 Crystal Palace: Previously, Pardew was being pilloried for posting pathetic performances. His job was on the line, apparently. Observers were wondering how on earth he was still in a job after a run of several matches with the same L being the outcome. Yet, they have now won a game. They have done it. Collected the full three points from a game. That has surely broken the back on the run. Pardew, however, will know that he is not out of the woods, yet. In Hull he faces an opportunity to ease the pressure on himself further. It seems like so long ago that Hull made an impressive start to their league season despite several setbacks. They are second from bottom for a reason. They are living up to the expectations of them to be struggling at the wrong end of the table. Yet if they look at the points situation it’s not a done deal that they are going down. If they rouse a battling performance in a game like this, for example, then they will be level on points with their opponents – that will at least make the melee at the bottom all the more intriguing. There is something endearing about the way the embattled club still go about their business on the pitch. Phelan is at least looking to put out a team of players who work together and put in an honest shift. That will allow to nab points off any clubs who bob along being complacent. Crystal Palace, however, will have no reason to be complacent, which should make the difference in this match.
Swansea City 1-2 Sunderland: Errrrrr … what’s happened to Sunderland? They used to be a comfortable punchline, but of late they have actually been getting … yes I can’t believe it either … they have been getting wins. Three out of their last four matches. That’s not a bad run of form at all. It’s a decent run that should be the platform for them to take their survival chances seriously. They could do it. They could stay up. It is now more a possibility than its ever been before. Beating the Premier League champions would have contributed to their rising confidence – although to be fair, there’s more an issue of who can’t beat the Premier League champions at the moment. Nevertheless David Moyes is hardly going to return those three points. Meanwhile Bob Bradley could well do with those three points. He could do with a colection of three points from quite a number of upcoming fixtures. As they stare up at nineteen teams above them, they know they have a lot of work to do to retain their Premier League status. As their chairman comes out this week to admit that their current plight is his responsbility that’s hardly a note of encouragement for the Welsh team as they engage in the battle. It’s not the time to be taking responsibility in that way. It’s time to be about the business of getting solutions to the situation they find themselves in. Yet there is very little to suggest at the moment that they have solutions. That won’t be something Moyes is too bothered about if his team can continue to prove in returning to the North-East with three points.
Leicester City 1-3 Man City: Neither of these City sides are happy at the moment. There’s something about Manchester City’s season thus far that does not give the impression they have really got to the stage they desire. The Christmas period, however, is an important one if they are to realise their ambitions. Four points off the top is not unassailable by any stretch of the imagination, but they certainly need to be kicking into gear soon. The defeat to Chelsea last week was particularly galling for a number of reasons. It’s their time, however, to show they can bounce back from it with a win. In Leicester City, they could hardly have picked better opponents to comeback. Even Swansea have won a game in their last five. In fact only West Ham are in a similar spate of poor form. Leticester, however, are the Premier League Champions – not sure if that’s been mentioned before. They can afford a little challenge on their follow-up season, but their form of late has been alarming even for a team that were previously seen as a yo-yo club. You must know that they are in trouble when they lose to Sunderland. That’s a good indicator that things must change. Ranieiri seems to have got that memo in the team selection he made for their final Champions League group match this week. He is definitely saving his best team for this encounter and perhaps for the run of games ahead. There is a justifiable question, however, that if this team has not been doing the business before in the league, what gives anyone the impression that they will begin to pick up their game against a side who may not have Aguerro, but still have menace and threat throughout the side?
Chelsea 3-0 West Brom: People are questioning Tony Pulis. They are questioning if it is really him that is leading this West Brom side. This is a team that is … scoring goals. This is a team that is … winning games. This is a team that is … playing decent football. Effective though Pulis has been in his football career these are not the most obvious trademarks of his approach to the game. Yet here they sit pretty in seventh place and after fourteen games they know they are not there by accident. It bodes well for the team from the Midlands. That, however, now comes across the seemingly relentless machine thatis the current table-toppers. Conte’s side didn’t look that perturbed by Man City when they beat them at the Etihad. Another day, another win for Chelsea. The side don’t know how to drop points at the moment and the Stamford Bridge brigade are understandably chipper at their progress. In fact, if you whisper it quietly, their current position would not be that much ruffled if they were to drop a couple of points in this game. What a comfortable position they are in. Do not think for a minute, though, that Conte is in anyway taking this for granted. He succeeded at Juventus because he didn’t get lax. He knows enough about West Brom to know that to take them lightly would be a big mistake. He knows enough about how Pulis sets his team up in big games to know that the onus will be on him to make the most of their dominant possession to actually score the goals that can put this game to bed. It’s just as well that in Costa they have a player ravenous for goals and in Hazard hey have a player who is in imperious form. That and the ongoing resurrection of the reputation of Moses and establishment of respect for Luiz and it’s a reason why I can just about see a home win.
Man United 2-1 Tottenham: When I write predictions for these games, I allow myself a little leeway for the scores. Maybe in one miraculous week all ten of my predictions will be correct. It’s not impossible. Highly unlikely, but not impossible. Of all the predictions this week that should have the raised eyebrows, this one should have the biggest raised eyebrows. Observers will tell me to look at the facts – Spurs have only lost once in the league this season. Spurs have one of the best defences in the league. In Harry Kane, Spurs have a menace of a striker who can boss any defence he comes across. Spurs have a team ethic and a team press that, like City did when they visited Old Trafford, can rub United the wrong way and cause them considerable grief. Also, as some have detected, United are good in the cup competitions, but they don’t appear to believe in winning games in the Premier League. Sure they play well, they create chances, they can even score a goal. All of that can happen and they can leave the match without the full points. They have played City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea so far and not got a win in any of those games. You look at all of that and if you were a Spurs fan you would definitiely be at least mindful that you could leave Manchester with something from this match. Meanwhile as a United fan you’ll be a little frustrated to see a good first eleven selected in the Europa League match before the clash on Sunday. It will make you a little puzzled and concerned to see if the team can live up to the exertions that Pochettino’s side will definitely put on the home side on Sunday. Considering all of those things the last thing you would confidently suggest is a home win. So I am confidently suggesting a home win.
Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough: I seriously doubt that this will be the game of the weekend. Karanka will be grateful for the win on Monday. Now he faces a team that is only two points away. The Saints overall have a better squad, but that won’t stop Karanka from believing that he can approach this game and get something out of it. Indeed in the previous seven away matches Middlesbrough have ensured they got something out of the match on six of those occasions. Meanwhile the Saints are not in a good runof form at the moment. One win in five games is not a good stat to look at, then to compound that they managed to get knocked out of the Europa League. This is a good test of Puel’s credentials, can he get this team to play to their peak again and register some more positive results. The uncertainty over the future of Fonte is not helping them either. Their home record is not too shabby, though having only lost one of their seven games there this season so far. This will not be a goal fest primarily because neither side boast particularly prolific sides. That record about Middlesbrough on the road is impressive in terms of getting something from their travels. What’s also indicative about how this match might end up is that of those six times when they got something from the game, five of those games were draws.
Liverpool 4-1 West Ham: Slaven Bilic has had some very serious things to say about the state of his team following their trouncing at the hands of Arsenal. There is a lot going on at the club and not all of it good at all. This is a challenge for Bilic to rouse his troops. There is a lot at stake for the Hammers. They are only grateful that their fall off from last season is worsened by the fall off at Leicester City. That consolation won’t mean much if they get relegated and they are smelling like genuine relegation candidates with each failure to win. Not the best time to be visiting Anfield. Liverpool are smarting from the defeat at Bournemouth especially the manner of that loss. Home has been a fortress for Liverpool where they have only failed to win once in their six games. They will want to swiftly recover from their setback with three points. Klopp will not be taking this game for granted at all. He knows that Bilic is still a sound coach and West Ham will be looking to have some good news to bring back to London. On paper it doesn’t look to good for the visitors, but this is Premier League football and the Hammers have it in them to make the point that they are not finished just yet.
It’s another fascinating week of football action. I am hopeful that the points will definitely go up this week after last time out. As ever though …
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden