The fixture list in its wisdom has said we can have three league matches in the space of eight days!! Truly they love those who love football. Which means that on week 16 of the campaign I get two sets of predictions to make.
Before I get stuck in with the first set, there is time ot review how I did witht he set of games that has taken place this weekend. Points scoring is straightforward – I lap up three points if I get the correct scoreline; I meekly collect one point for getting the right outcome alone and for getting neither correct I get the sum total of zilch.
Watford 1-1 Everton (0 points – actual score 2-1)
Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City (3 points)
Burnley 2-1 Bournemouth (1 point – actual score 3-2)
Hull 1-2 Crystal Palace (0 points – actual score 3-3)
Swansea City 1-2 Sunderland (0 points – actual score 3-0)
Leicester City 1-3 Man City (0 points – actual score 4-2)
Chelsea 3-0 West Brom (1 point – actual score 1-0)
Man Utd 2-1 Tottenham (1 point – actual score 1-0)
Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough (0 points – actual score 1-0)
Liverpool 4-1 West Ham (0 points – actual score 2-2)
Last time out I only collected five points, but that was at least from five correct outcomes. This time around, however, I’ve collected only slightly more points with the six total, but that has come from a disappointing 40% correct outcome rating. Sure I’m delighted to get a scoreline spot on, but it would have been sweeter to get more correct outcomes. Some outcomes in that round of games were simply ridiculous – like when did Leicester find their scoring boots?
Nevertheless that’s the way the game goes and as we approach the first part of the two parter in week 16 of the Premier League, it’s with a touch more caution that I slap on these predictions.
Bournemouth 2-2 Leicester City: I defy anyone to tell me they say Leicester thrashing Man City. I defy them. There was nothing in how Leicester have played to give any indication they had performance in them. There you go, though. Ranieiri can happily look at that statement to say his team are more than capable of playing as well as they did last season. It will be of great interest however to see if they can maintain that in a game that comes so soon afterwards. Meanwhile Bournemouth continue their bumpy and inconsistent approach to this season. They don’t look quite poor enough yet to be troubled about relegation, but they cannot afford to live on highs of comebacks against Liverpool and then lose the next game. As ever the key is consistency and they will be looking to home comforts to provide them the environment to resume the winning thing. Will they have enough, however to take on the Premier League Champions who now have their tails up and are looking to keep that going? Thankfully for the home side, the Foxes will not find it that straightforward to replicate the scintillating form that saw them three goals up within twenty minutes. Likewise Eddie Howe will be insistent that his side don’t go about their business with a slow start on thsi occasion. If the home side can rouse themselves they can look to nab the win, but I see this game ending in a stalemate.
Everton 1-2 Arsenal: The league table is not looking so pretty for the Toffees. There is a reason for that, seen most clearly in the fact they have not won in their last five games. Their fans are starting to grumble in that kind of run and do not see much in the way of signs of improvement. It is not all completely dismal for them because at least Lukaku still knows how to score every now and then. Scoring now and then, however, is not that helpful when you’re tending to concede more often and fail to do enough to do that thing of winning games of football. Some are dreading seeing another season of mid-table mediocrity and there is already criticism of the new guy for not doing something different to address the performances and results. It is not the best time to face Arsenal with all that going on. Pessimists at Arsenal are finding it harder to grumble and complain – that’s not to say everything is rosy, after all it’s only December. Yet as they look at the table they see themselves comfortably established in second place and the most likely to challenge Chelsea for top spot. They did beat Stoke and were not particularly bullied by them at all. They won’t go to Goodison Park taking it for granted that they can collect the three points just by turning up. Koeman is savvy enough to send out a side that can combat the attacking threat Arsenal pose. Plus with so many games being played in succession the question of squad rotation in team selection comes to the fore. Will Wenger or Koeman risk putting out their strongest sides in this match knowing that another one looms in the not too distant future. As it looks at the moment, though, it is looking more likely that Arsenal will emerge from this trip to the North with the win.
Middlesbrough 1-2 Liverpool: It is not that long ago that Liverpool were top of the table looking down on all the other teams and obviously they suffered from vertigo. Since that brief moment at the top they have stuttered and faltered. Eager beavers blame the defence and especially the goalkeeper. Others point to apparently missing the impact of players like Sturridge and particularly Coutinho. Whatever it is, critics are sharpening their knives to suggest their whole title contending thing was too premature and Klopp’s failure to address the defence is obstinate to the point of blindness. They won’t find much in the way of sympathy from this fixture. Karanka will not write this game off as one they cannot do well in. They will not fear the attacking threat of Liverpool, because they may see a way of combating that whilst doing the damage at the other end of the pitch. Boro are not that prolific at that end of the pitch, but in the knowledge that the apparent frailties of their opponents may present them with opportunities, they may very well hope for the best. Klopp’s selection for this game will be very telling with the Merseyside derby being just around the corner. There is no sign of him adjusting his methods and his belief in his teams to score goals. His commitment to his principles is somewhat being tested in this brief phase of games that should have seen more points collected, it his commitment to the team ethos, however, that will be decisive in the outcome of this fixture. If they turn up and look to be clinical in front of goal they could get a much needed three goals. Boro, however, will be looking to captialise on any weakness.
Sunderland 0-3 Chelsea: Sunderland were doing so well. Two wins in a row, goals being scored, confidence building and Moyes must have thought he was onto something. To leave Wales with nothing but the weird feeling of actually being beaten by a team that has been worse than them will be deflating to say the least. They then follow that up with a little issue of facing the league leaders who don’t concede often and have not tasted anything other than victories in nearly ten league fixtures. Indeed if they collect the three points on this occasion that magical number ten will emerge. Conte isn’t bothered about records, that’s clear. He’s got his head screwed on properly when it comes to expectations. He will see this game as one similar t what they have endured with the game against West Brom. He will fully expect a ten man defence with maximum effort put in to stop the machine from churning. He will drill it into his players to remain disciplined and focused on the game at hand. Not get hung up with missed chances or stifling defences. He will know that if they keep probing then their breakthrough will come through as it did in their last game. The challenge, then, is for Sunderland to figure out how to competently keep quiet the more forceful elements of the irrepressible visitors from the capital city. If they are looking for anything in their past to help, Sunderland will be plum out of material. That won’t stop Moyes hoping that his efforts will get his lads putting in the intensity required to get in among the leaders and challenge for whatever they can get out of the game. It just looks like what that will amount to is that nebulous quality of ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’.
West Ham 2-1 Burnley: Go ahead and laugh. Go on. There it is, I believe West Ham will win a game of football at their home ground. That’s something worth laughing about because there is little to suggest that will be the case. They have had seven games at home winning two. That means Hammers spend most of their time at home watching their team extend Christmas cheer in giving away points like there’s no tomorrow. At the moment they could very much do with that thing called a win. It seems like such an oddity in the Hammer circles that they may be surprised to note that I believe they will make that happen in this match. Is that a slur on their opponents? Not at all. Dyche is very good at his job. Burnley are not by any means dead and buried in this league. They can fight and tussle with the best of them. It’s just that their ability to do that away from home seems to be lacking. It’s lacking at a time when they could do with it, because there seems to be no better place to be playing football away from hom than against West Ham. The draw at Anfield, though, would have sent Bilic back to the East of London in better spirits. It is now a matter of if Bilic can turn that into at least getting thorugh 90+ minutes and emerging with a miraculous and rare three points.
Crystal Palace 1-2 Man Utd: At last. At last Manchester United turn domination and chances into three points. In fact since late September, United have only lost once in the league. That’s a decent record. Of course it would be a much better record if a lot of those league matches drawn were actually the wins that they should have been. Yet here they are, still outside the top five ands still lagging behind other teams who have done the thing of winning games of football. Beating Spurs is a good result, though and they can take that into this fixture. A fixture in which they will be the favourites by some margin. The reason for that is their opponents. Pardew must have hoped he turned a corner with that win against Southampton, but to follow that up with a draw at Hull – a draw they just about scraped – was not the sort of performance and result that would have helped them. It certainly would not prepare them for this tricky home game. That will not deter the optimism of Pardew. He will want to send his home fans away happy that his team have given this game a go. He won’t be too concerned about them scoring goals, that bit they have down well. They will be a lot more concerned about their inability to stop conceding goals. Not that United are scoring them by the ton at the moment and the injury to Mkhitaryan could not have come at a more inconvenient time with the run of games coming. Mourinho won’t be too downhearted, though, because United were creating chances withouthim in the side and their renewed confidence and theoptions they have in attack and midfield should give them reason to believe they can see their way to collecting the three points.
Man City 3-1 Watford: Errrrrr … so … Man City …. what’s going on there then? You expect every new manager to have a sticky patch as they get used to the way things work around here. But for Manchester City to lose two in a row is just … not going according to the plan. It’s one thing to remember when Liverpool were top, but it’s another thing to remember that this is the City who set a blistering pace in the league winning games in a row. Now they are in fourth place seven points behind top spot. That is simply not good enough. Sure it’s one thing to point out City’s defensive record of late, although laying the blame at the door of the new goalkeeper misses something bigger going on at the Etihad and that is the necessary changing of the guard where the defence is concerned. Whatever the transitional issues going on, the squad should not be lagging this far behind top spot. They can begin to make amends for that with this home match. Other than the defeat to Chelsea, City have been able to put in the performances at home to justify their status as title favourites. They will need such a performance to get themselves back on track. In Watford they face a team who themselves are not really doing much to prove they could be a pain to City. Watford are doing well for themselves in the better half of the table, but away from home they rarely cause that much in the way of an upset. It would be something as well to see if the Hornets could put in the kind of effort that would not be overawed by the attacking options that City can display even as they continue to have to deal with Aguerro’s suspension.
Stoke City 1-1 Southampton: Topsy-turvy, patchy, ups and downs and round and round. Here is a clash of two teams who typify that as well as any mediocre team in the Premeir League. They both know they shouldn’t be messing around with relegation. They both have aspirations higher than where they are. They have tasted of European football and would like to taste it some more. Their form so far this season, however, does not suggest they are going in the right direction to realise their aspirations. They are slap bang in the middle of the table and are separated by a place and a point. Their run of recent games has seen two wins, , two losses and a draw. Stoke want to recover from that defeat at the Emirates and Southampton want to have the rare experience of winning two games in a row. This has got a draw written all over it.
Tottenham 2-0 Hull City: Spurs are sort of drifting at the moment. At one point some wondered if they were title contenders and then they drew to Arsenal, lost to Chelsea and now lost to Man Utd. That should answer that question. The next question for Spurs to answer at the moment is whether they have the wherewithal to sustain a challenge for the top four. United’s win sees them only three points behind Spurs. So this is the kind of game that spurs need to win to both maintain their quest for a top four finish and keep some distance from the Red Devils. They will be grateful to welcome Hull to White Hart Lane. Hull come having drawn a match against Crystal Palace that they may feel they should have done better in, but they now travel away from their home for their eighth away match looking to buck a particularly telling trend. That trend being that of the seven previous games away they have only got points from two of those matches. There is little to suggest they are going to do that much better at a Spurs team keen to prove again that they are worthy of the acclaim they received. Swansea were dispatched with comfortably at White Hart Lane in the last home match and there’s no reason why Hull won’t face a similar fate.
West Brom 2-0 Swansea: So the Swans did very well in comprehensively beating fellow relegation strugglers Sunderland. Goals scored, clean sheet kept, three points collected and a way out of the top three in sight. A win is a platform of belief for the game to come. Bradley will be taking that onto the next game seeing them visit the Hawthorns. The mood at West Brom has been fairly upbeat. They have been doing well in games and scoring goals and collecting points in a far more prolific manner than their opponents. They are having overall a decent season. Losing to Chelsea is no shame and limiting them to the one goal shows that they have that discipline to keep their goals conceded column as low as possible. They can return from that battle and face this Swansea side with a degree of confidence and optimism that they can keep their good form going. If they do then that will bear them well for the future. The onus is actually on the Swans to raise their game again in battling to get as much from matches like this to help in their bid to climb above the relegation zone and believe they can actually survive. Not sure Pulis will be in the mood to help his fellows Welshmen out on this occasion.
With the possible exception of Everton taking on Arsenal, this round of fixtures doesn’t feature that much in the way of excitement with the teams meeting each other. Yet there is still enough for intrigue to take place for there are points to be won and title challenges to get back on track and relegation scrapes to battle. As for my predictions, I certainly feel a lot more confident of improving on the points total of recent weeks.
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden