Month: January 2017

Premier League Prediction – Week 21 Part 1

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The FA Cup took the limelight over the weekend with the usual mix of expected beatings and shocks and upsets and media rubbish over the vaunted nature of the trophy. It was what it was, but quite rightly the bread and butter of the club is the league.

It’s that time again to consider how this set of fixtures is going to pan out. Before that it’s worth again looking back on how I did in the last set of fixtures. There is a points system at work and that operates in this way – three points for a spot on prediction, one point for a correct outcome and nothing for nothing.

Liverpool 4-1 Swansea (0 points – actual score 2-3)

Bournemouth 2-1 Watford (0 points – actual score 2-2)

Crystal Palace 1-2 Everton (1 point – actual score 0-1)

Middlesbrough 1-0 West Ham (0 points – actual score 1-3)

Stoke City 1-2 Man Utd (0 points – actual score 1-1)

West Brom 3-1 Sunderland (1 point – actual score 2-0)

Man City 1-2 Tottenham (0 points – actual score 2-2)

Southampton 1-1 Leicester (0 points – actual score 3-0)

Arsenal 3-0 Burnley (1 point – actual score 2-1)

Chelsea 5-0 Hull City (1 point – actual score 2-0)

What a miserable set of results that has turned out to be on all points. Only four correct outcomes and only those were outcomes not a correct result in them at all. Meaning it was a mere four points for that set of fixtures. Not good at all.

Now it’s to dust myself down and consider this week’s worth of fixtures and with a dearth of league matches in the last week there’s making up for it with two sets of league fixtures this week. So as ever this entry will cover the first part. And surely I can turn it around now. Surely?

Arsenal 3-0 Watford: Things are looking good for Arsenal at the moment. They brushed aside Southampton in the Cup with a convincing thrashing. They sit second in the table and now they have a chance to further affirm both their position in second and more importantly for them their place in the top four. Their team is scoring goals on a regular basis and the whole mental approach is not has soft as it has been in time past as seen in their last league fixture where they nabbed a win in the dying seconds against Burnley. The look of their squad and first team selection is ominous as ever, particularly for the opponents. Watford are eight points away from the bottom three, but their form of late in all competitions should be a point of great concern. They are not in a position to believe they won’t get dragged into the scrap to stay up. Being in that position is not the best way to approach a trip to the Emirates. Plus with talk of one of their only decent players possibly leaving the club by deadline day that’s not the most settling news to support the morale. In those circumstances, some might see this as one of those games where they should be looking to make it difficult for the home team. They can try. They will not succeed.

Bournemouth 2-1 Crystal Palace: There are games where you don’t think you have a chance. There are other games where you think that if you put in the effort you could get the result you’re looking for. Crystal Palace have not got going yet under Sam Allardyce. Their signings to date have not been that inspiring. Yet their squad should still not be in the bottom three, but there they are. This game, however, is one where they should feel a bit more confident of emerging with either the point or all three. That’s not because the Vitality Stadium is an easy place to play. Eddie Howe has done fairly well at home especially in contrast to their away form. They are doing well at the moment as far as the table is concerned and if results go their way they could even face the weekend in the top half of the table. To get there, though, they will have to defeat a Sam Allardyce side, Sam is savvy enough to put forward a team that can do well on set pieces and otherwise strangle the game from any influence from the opposition. This is not that easy a game to predict, but I am just seeing the team from the coast making their home advantage count.

Burnley 2-1 Leicester City: When the top division was won by a dominant and established side, playing that side was a massive source of motivation for the opponent. They wanted to have a go at toppling the champions. It was the sign of champions that they would rise to this challenge and more often than not prove why they were champions in the first place. That didn’t mean they always retained their status, but they didn’t do their reputation any harm. Leicester are proving again just how unlikely a set of champions they were last season. It was definitely a blip. This season’s league performances and results, especially without the Champions League jolly, have been so poor that Burnley have to be the favourites in this match. What also assists the Lancashire side in this thinking is the run they have had at Turf Moor. They have turned over some top sides at home and know they are more than capable of grabbing three points again. Dyche is not one to get his lads being complacent about their position, he will keep them on the thinking that they still have to retain their place in the Premier League. A win against the champions – cheap though that is these days – would still do a lot of good to the morale of the team and to their quest in surprising the likes of me and looking to start the 2017-18 season in the Premier League. That win is very likely as well unless Ranieiri can lift his team to do well away from home.

Middlesbrough 1-1 West Brom: Middlesbrough are in a relegation battle. That is not a question, that is an accurate observation based on their place in the table and those that lurk behind them. What also makes them look ever likely for the struggle is their inability to score goals. Even Hull City have scored more goals than Middlesbrough. Yeah, let that sink in for a minute. Some argue that defences win the league, but goalscorers keep teams in the league and Boro are not looking like they have the goals in them. Not only that, they haven’t done anything in the transfer window to suggest they are doing anything about it. West Brom, meanwhile, are having a decent season. They are well set to finish at some point in the middle of the table. That is based on an effective defence, a decent midfield and a credible attacking threat. It’s not to say they couldn’t do with the reinforcement and the lack of that in the transfer window will be a concern, but they go into this game as the favourites with the capacity to return to the Midlands with three points. Though they have that capacity, it will be fascinating to see if they can utilise that against a side who should have the gnawing sense that they could be dragged down to a return to Championship football.

Sunderland 0-3 Tottenham: Spurs did not make life easy for themselves in getting through to the fifth round of the FA Cup. It was about squad management, however, because they know where their priority lies. They are doing very well in the league only losing twice this season and not even Chelsea can say that. This away fixture is another opportunity to get into a strong position in that top four. They can put pressure on their North London neighbours, they can maintain a gap between them and the Manchester clubs. They have the chance to do that because they are playing Sunderland. That’s bottom of the table Sunderland. That’s a team so devoid of ideas, motivation, ambition and any signs of doing anything consistently about their position that it is a surprise that they are not the most miserable team in the Premier League. Their manager has certainly made every effort to establish a trophy for the most miserable manager in the league. Moyes has made little effort to paint any picture but one that screams ‘it’s grim up North’. Spurs appear to be in the mood to heap further misery on this side. Little reason to believe that will not be happening.

Swansea City 2-1 Southampton: This is an interesting game. Not a great game on paper, not one to get the mouth salivating, but it is an interesting game. Interesting because Southampton are in a rather cosy position. They are far enough from the relegation scrap at the moment to not be too fussed. They have a trip to Wembley to look forward to in February. They may have been thrashed in the FA Cup, but seriously is that such a big deal in the larger scheme of things? It’s all going rather cosy for them. Sometimes that degree of cosiness can make it a little difficult to spark players into life to be competitive. This game is far away from Wembley enough for players not to have to be anxious about their places. In that setting the trip to the Liberty Stadium might cause some degree of discomfort for them. The Swans enter this game on the up. Nobody predicted they would return from Anfield with three points, yet that is exactly what they did. That result lifted them two points away from the relegation zone. No they are not safe at all, but they are on the up. Now it’s their chance to keep it up and if they can eek out another win in this match – two consecutive wins in a row in the league, when was the last time they had that? And possibly putting more distance between them and the bottom three. What a motivation to take advantage of this opportunity. Maybe they can do that. No reason why not.

Liverpool 2-1 Chelsea: Chelsea should win this match. Not necessarily win it comfortably, but they should win it. They are definitely in better form than their opponents. They are in better form because they are better organised. They are in better form because they are better drilled. They are in better form because they have the mental strength to come back from any situation and then command and control a game. Throughout the team there is strength all over the place. Their defence is tough. Their midfield is resilient. Their attacking quality and ability to hit teams on the break is irresistible. They have gears yet to reach in their game too and they know how to grind out a result, their game management is simply superb. They are top of the table by a considerable distance and now face a match against a team that had been a competitor in the end of December. January has been a horrific month for their opponents, three consecutive home defeats in a row would have been unimaginable in December. Losing those home games against the likes of Swansea, Southampton and Wolves would have evoked an even more incredulous response, but those are the facts. And in the light of that horrific run of form against inferior opposition, the home side face the best team playing in English football at the moment. Chelsea should win this match. So obviously I predict Liverpool will edge it.

West Ham 1-3 Man City: David Sullivan, co-owner of West Ham, reassured the fans that the squad would emerge from the transfer window stronger than when they entered it. With a few signings made that promise looks to be realised. With the negative influence of the Payet situation now resolved, that may also work towards that belief. Their run of form without Payet has not been that poor at all. This will all bode well and give the club a lift to enter this game. Manchester City have a season to rescue in the league. Pep has been battered for the league form of the club of late. He will look to this opportunity to resume City’s quest for the top four finish. There is a good reason to believe that this is the kind of game that City can win and win well. Their last match showed that if they can turn the chances they make to goals then they will sweep teams away. In as much as their defence has been porous it has been the slack work of their attack that has raised the eyebrows. If that can be fixed in this away fixture then there’s no reason why they cannot leave the capital city with a full quota of points.

Man Utd 4-0 Hull City: United were on a decent unbeaten stretch until they visited Hull for the second leg of the EFL Cup semi-final. They emerged with a place in the final but that unbeaten stretch had been ended in a rather damp squib of a defeat. That will not make Mourinho happy at all. Now in the league, it’s not about revenge, but it will certainly be about ensuring that they can narrow the gap to the top four with the much needed three points. Hull made a few changes for the FA Cup match and were duly disposed from the competition. They do so, however, because they still want to make a fist of their survival. Sure it looks unlikely, sure their squad is worse off after some departures and injuries, but … but … Nope, got nothing for them. Mourinho will have an even more competitive squad following those who made a decent effort in the Cup thrashing of Preston. That should make the team he selects this midweek champing at the bit to welcome Hull to Old Trafford. Being clinical was something that United struggled with earlier this season, but that problem may be a thing of the past, despite that disappointment of a defeat to the same opposition. With players still playing with a point to prove and the support of the Theatre of Dreams then there is every reason to believe that United could do their effort at getting in the top four a power of good with three points gained in a comprehensive fashion.

Stoke City 1-1 Everton: Will Everton make any more signings before this match? Do they need to? What are they playing for now? Sounds of them looking to finish in a place to automatically qualify for Europe certainly shows the ambitions of the club. Does the squad they have on hand look strong enough to pull that off? An indication of that will be how they get on in this still tricky fixture. United will inform the Toffees that coming to Staffordshire is not an easy trip to make. Berahino has finally signed for the club after the previous umpteen transfer window links, but it will be interesting to see if he is ready for this match. Other than that, Stoke have different ambitions to Everton and have a squad that reflects that. This is not a squad of players looking to break into the top six of the Premier League, Stoke City are looking to finish closer to the top eight and slightly higher than their usual midtable finish. Ambitions and desires aside as these two sides meet it looks likely that they will cancel each other out. This is not a game in which a winner can be picked out.

So many variables to be considered in this set of fixtures. Some might be recovering from poor runs of form, others might be playing smart for upcoming fixtures, it is not all straightforward, but it’s still worth making the prediction. My desire is to obviously do a lot better than last time out. It’s been a while since I got a spot on result prediction I am believing that can change by the update on Friday.

Let’s see how it goes.

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

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Premier League Prediction – Week 20

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The football train keeps a moving on and the game populates all kinds of talk about something or other. Pep is in the picture as his City project doesn’t appear to be going as well as he hoped. That doesn’t mean it has to remain that way. They could turn things around, but there is a need for a turnaround.

Speaking of which was there a turnaround from the last time out with the predictions? Let’s consider how my predictions matched with the actual results. There are points at stake, and here are those stakes – three points for a spot on prediction, one point for just a correct outcome and nothing for nothing.

Tottenham 2-1 West Brom (1 point – actual score 4-0)

Burnley 2-1 Southampton (1 point – actual score 1-0)

Hull City 1-1 Bournemouth (0 points – actual score 3-1)

Sunderland 1-2 Stoke City (1 point – actual score 1-3)

Swansea 0-3 Arsenal (1 point – actual score 0-4)

Watford 1-1 Middlesbrough (1 point – actual score 0-0)

West Ham 2-1 Crystal Palace (1 point – actual score 3-0)

Leicester 1-3 Chelsea (1 point – actual score 0-3)

Everton 1-2 Man City (0 points – actual score 4-0)

Man Utd 2-2 Liverpool (1 point – actual score 1-1)

In terms of correct outcomes that was an astonishing weekend of work on my part 80% – only two matches went against me. Of those two matches the City demolition would not have been foreseen by anyone. Real surprise. Plus Bournemouth losing to Hull? For real? Yet for getting 8 correct outcomes I just couldn’t make any correct scoreline which was slightly disappointing. Nevertheless it’s not a bad week.

Now we look to the next set of fixtures. This set looks fascinating and I at least want to maintain the correct outcomes record adding some correct scores to it. This is a tasty set of fixtures as well not necessarily for stand out matches … just for the sense of the games and their bearing on the top and bottom of the table.

Liverpool 4-1 Swansea: Paul Clement relished the challenge at Swansea when he arrived. That’s quite some optimistic approach when he saw among his first league games was a home tie against Arsenal then a trip to the top scorers in the league. It’s even more optimistic considering Swansea have had a season they would prefer to forget. In those circumstances and following the beating by Arsenal in a ruthless second half dismantling they will need all the optimism in the world in approaching this fixture. That is not to say that Liverpool will win this comfortably. The goals have dried up of late, people are suggesting they are missing Mane and the front players are misfiring. It’s not a great moment for the Reds and where once they looked in prime position to challenge Chelsea, they are looking around them at significant threats. For all those issues, however, they really should win this match.

Bournemouth 2-1 Watford: As the second half of the season picks up momentum for certain teams it’s even more about collecting the points that will prove vital by the end of the season. Both of these teams are not in the relegation zone which should be considered as a massive positive. However both should be wary that it only takes a a few defeats for them to be drawn into the scrap. Watford should be wary in particular because their form of late has not been all that bright. What’s also of concern is the seeming lack of motivation from anywhere to snap out of the slump. Should they not buck up their ideas they could waste an opportunity to confirm their Premier League status. Bournemouth, meanwhile, are so inconsistent in their results that they may survive out of the sheer capacity to get enough wins under their belt. They have tended to do better at home than away and if Howe can get them playing to their capabilities, they should win this game.

Crystal Palace 1-2 Everton: Big Sam knows his way around the Premier League. He won’t be backward in coming forward about that. He has developed a track record of building teams are incredibly difficult to beat and capable of going toe-to-toe with the best. So it must be slightly aggravating at the moment that his powers are not really being evident in the results at Palace at the moment. They remain perilously close to the drop zone and could do with some wins or at least some points to ward off that particular position. Being at home in this tie should work in their favour where that’s concerned. However, they face an Everton team on the up. The result at Goodison Park on Sunday was a clear marker for observers to note. Koeman’s side put in the sort of performance he will now expect as standard. Sure Allardyce will be savvy enough to spoil that as best as he can, but Koeman isn’t a stranger to that style of football. He has now had more than enough time for his side to get the message as to what he expects. They are evidently capable of scoring a goal or four and the Palace defence are hardly the most stingy despite Sam’s best efforts. No one will be taking anything for granted in this game and it really could go either way or even end up in a stalemate, but I am seeing the Toffees continue the good run.

Middlesbrough 1-0 West Ham: In their last game West Ham gave a good impression of a side who didn’t need their best player. They will be looking to maintain that good impression as they go on the road. They are not in an ideal position as far as their aspirations are concerned, but they still have the basic same team that did well last season even if they don’t have their best player. They will travel up to Teeside and face a very difficult side. Boro are among the better defensive sides in the league, they don’t tend to get beat soundly that often at all. Yet in as much as their defensive approach can be solid, they are still lacking significantly in their attacking threat. They can score, apparently, they just don’t make a habit of it regularly. Looking at those factors it would be understandable to see this as a dull draw. Some looking at the quality comparison of both sides would suggest that this game may favour the away side. Yet here is my bold prediction that despite that Boro may have the nous to nullify the Payet-less efforts of the Hammers and sneak away with a much treasured three points.

Stoke City 1-2 Man Utd: I remember United going to what was then the Britannia Stadium under LvG and getting beat. That was not a pleasant experience for the United fans, but for some reasons the Potters weren’t too fussed about it. On this occasion the state of the two teams is different. Stoke City’s is different in the sense that it’s another season into the Hughes reign and there is a concern that the scent of stagnation can be felt as he struggles to pick a settled side. Their win at Sunderland last time out did some good in addressing that, but as many would say – it was only Sunderland. This is a much harder proposition. Before the draw on Sunday, United had been on a decent run of wins game after game. Their ability to snatch a draw in what could easily have been a defeat said much about their relentless pursuit of goals. They feel a much bigger threat than they did last year and that’s down to the four new permanent fixtures in the club – Mourinho, Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Mkhitaryan. They are regaining that sense of arrogance and invincibility that marked both the club and the manager over the years. That means they arrive in Staffordshire not looking to nick a draw against a tough to beat side. They are hungry for the win. Of course their league position suggests they can’t afford to be looking for anything else, but the side seem oblivious to that and are just getting on with being remorseless in collecting another ‘W’ in their record. Pogba, in particular, will be looking to get over a poor performance for him in the last game. In that mood, I don’t see Stoke City emerging with much other than autographs and signed shirts from the away team.

West Brom 3-1 Sunderland: Moyes is confident of keeping Defoe in this transfer window. There is no indication that the striker wants out. So that is all in order for the Mackems. That’s probably the only thing that is in order for the club who appear to be well on their way to playing in the Championship next season. Defoe truly appears to be their only hope. Their only hope for scoring goals, their only hope for galvanising the players behind him and thus the only hope to gain whatever crumbs of comfort that are points that might make themselves available to them. Yet this quest is met with a trip to the Hawthorns where the home side are smarting from a few recent reversals in results. It feels like a while since they last won a match. That might help Pulis in his call for more players to join the club, but it’s not doing his position in the table much good. He’s well aware that if he’s not careful the win-less run might become habitual. So he will look at this game as one of those where he can give everyone a boost. They still have it in them to turn in the sort of performances that got them safely ensconced in the top half of the table. If they produce that in this game they should be expecting the three points comfortably.

Man City 1-2 Tottenham: Some of the noises being made against Guardiola are rather shrill and churlish. It’s as though the idol the media created is now in a position to be demolished because City aren’t running away with the title as they should be. Some of the points and attacks have frankly been shortsighted and ludicrous. Guardiola remains one of the world’s best coaches. This is, however, one of the toughest seasons he has had as a manager. Getting used to this side and their flaws whilst gearing them to play his style is proving to be a challenge. Add to that how some teams seem to have sussed him out and are able both to contain the attacking threat and exploit the defensive frailties and it’s not looking so good for City in their efforts to even gain a top four place. They still have that attacking threat though – that is something that should not be forgotten or dismissed. At their best this City side can cut through a team like a hot knife through butter. At the moment, however, even that side of their game is looking a little blunt. Spurs, meanwhile, appear to have little in the way of problems. Sure Vertonghen will be out for a while with his injury, but Pochettino has proved himself adept at dealing with those defensive absences before. There’s little to suggest he will struggle now. Their defence remains a tough proposition for any attack and that is a great basis for his side to go out and do what they can do very well indeed – score goals and win games. This is undoubtedly the game of the weekend and these two teams can joust and battle, but will hardly put on a borefest. As they slug it out together it’s possible for City to really buck the trend and get a much needed win to kick-start their campaign. That i more than possible, but I see this being edged out by the discipline, steel and clinical capabilities of the North London side.

Southampton 1-1 Leicester: It’s been pointed out that Southampton have an interesting eight days ahead of them. Playing Liverpool at Anfield for a place in the League Cup final and then facing Arsenal to get through to the fifth round of the FA Cup. It is to suggest that the Saints may not repeat their league efforts of recent seasons, but if they manage their games right they could be on their way to a trip to Wembley and another decent Cup run. That’s not a bad season for a midtable side. But managers don’t always think like that. They still look at the league and see that there is a game to be won and they have to consider who they have available to do that. Puel and the Saints don’t look to have that squad depth to suggest they can afford to rotate that much. As well as that the team they face are still, according to the record books, the Premier League Champions. They can’t afford to take this game lightly at all. As for the Champions they certainly have a lot to live up to in their effort and turning this middling and muddling league campaign around. They are in the wrong half of the table and they are not giving the impression they are heading in the right direction just yet. They could definitely do with the win. Overall, however, there is something hugely underwhelming about both sides this season and on that basis I don’t see much to get excited about from this match, including the scoreline.

Arsenal 3-0 Burnley: The draw against Bournemouth will look all the more annoying to Arsenal when they think about the dropped points that Liverpool have suffered and the dip in form of City. They could have been in second place going into this game. As it is, they follow their thumping of Swansea knowing they need to collect three points just to stave off the very real possibility of finishing beneath their dearly beloved North London neighbours. This should not prove to be too problematic, however, for two very good reasons. The first is, for all their flaws and mental failings this season, it’s very rare that they fail to score. Very rare indeed. Giroud is in good scoring form. Sanchez has goals in them there boots. As well as that they have more than sufficient creativity behind them to set up chances especially in the comfort of their welcoming home ground. The second reason why they shouldn’t struggle to get the three points is because of their opponents. I know there’s no place like home, but Burnley are taking that adage way too seriously. To say their away form has been poor is the equivalent of suggesting whacking a hammer on your thumb accidentally may cause a slight physical inconvenience. It just seems that the Lancashire lads don’t travel that well at all. Can they turn that around at the Emirates? Can they? Really? I don’t think so.

Chelsea 5-0 Hull City: Christmas finished almost a month ago, but some Chelsea fans will look at this fixture and think Santa has been saving this up especially for them. That’s because obviously being top of the table by a decent number of points wasn’t a good enough present for them. They proved in their last outing that they can swat away opposition efforts with consummate ease – and that was against the Premier League Champions and without their top goalscorer. Whether Costa plays or not, the Stamford Bridge contingent will turn up expecting three points. That’s because the opposition are Hull City who are making a decent effort at being the worst team in the Premier League. It’s a difficult job with Swansea and Sunderland doing a sterling job in that department also, but Hull, despite surprisingly winning their last match, should resume their usual duties of being plucky losers in this fixture. Sure they will be a nuisance to the home side, they will present a noble effort at soaking up the pressure and somehow hitting on the break. They will be gallant in their plight and if they get Chelsea in complacent mood they could even spark an unlikely result. Therein, however, is the hope that the unlikely will happen and Chelsea will be complacent. If this side, however, even dreams of being complacent there will be a certain individual on the touchline who will let them know in no uncertain terms that the complacency is not welcome in their performance. With that buzzing in their ears it should bode well for the Chelsea choo-choo train to chug along with another three points towards an ever more likely regaining of the Premier League trophy.

Look at those ten fixtures. Just look at them. The biggest match is undoubtedly Spurs travelling to the Etihad, but beyond that the outcomes really should be straightforward. Of course, this is the Premier League and so even the straightforward won’t necessarily be all that, but that’s the whole point of predicting.

Let’s see how it goes.

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

Premier League Midway Review

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So we’re pass the midway point in the Premier League. We’re also past the halfway point in the January transfer window and business is not really picking up as yet, though that will change with the days remaining.

This review is a little later than scheduled, but it’s still looking at how things are at this stage.

Chelsea:

What I Expected: They were not obviously going to win it this season. They had a dreadful season last and so would be lagging a little behind the true contenders to be found in Manchester. Yet Conte is a savvy manager and the squad disappointed because they had been previously the champions, so it’s not as though they were complete failures. A few signings and they would be competing for a top four place.

What I Received: The start wasn’t too bad, but then there came defeats to Liverpool and especially Arsenal. That particular result has proven to be a turning point for the club who went on a 13 game winning streak and won 14 out of 15 league games to find themselves nestled comfortably seven points on top of the table. No doubt thanks to their 3-4-3 system that teams struggle against, the revelatory form of Victor Moses and the squad’s ability to cope with minor setbacks.

What I Expect: They should win the Premier League. Not necessarily as consummately as others have suggested, but their position is one in which they have to sabotage their own chances.

Progress Grade: A – You look at the names in that squad and there are quality Premier League winning players in there. Conte has got them playing to their potential and so the defence is strong, the attack is irresistible and there is solidity, strength and dynamism throughout the team.

Spurs:

What I Expected: They would certainly learn the lessons from last season. They have a good squad and a very good manager and things are ticking over well with them. Yet against the other big boys who would inevitably improve it would be a test of their mettle to see if they could keep up with the top four.

What I Received: They have beaten both Chelsea and City relatively comfortably. They have not been phased by Liverpool or Arsenal either. Even their loss against United wasn’t something to be ashamed about. They have lost just twice this season and yet the signs are that the best is yet to come from this squad as they look at the rest of the season as genuine title contenders.

What I Expect: Spurs only faltered in the final game last season which shows that to a degree they have some staying power. The test will be harder this time around, though, with the quality of opposition being stronger than last season. They are legitimate challengers though and so another top four finish is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Progress Grade: A – Really and truly this team should not be in the top two. That they have done this with some to spare is great credit to their squad management and to the manager himself who is doing a great job. Should they finish in the top four again, I would contend strongly that Pochettino is the best manager Spurs have had in the Premier League era.

Liverpool:

What I Expected: OK, so there’s my bias towards Liverpool which has a preference of looking for the best from the Reds. Yet the team finished way outside the top five last season. So a reasonable target for them was to lift themselves to be challenging for a top four place.

What I Received: They have done slightly better than I expected. Like Spurs they have only lost twice. When you consider that those defeats were against Bournemouth and Burnley, both away, it says a lot for the way Liverpool have done this season. To the degree that pundits are critiquing their performance on the basis of title contenders. That’s some feat that the squad have shown in improving to that degree. The attack most times has been a sensation to appreciate reflected in being the top goalscorers in the league and their pressing game has been good. Questions are still put about their defensive capabilities, but that has not deflected from the fact that they have done better than expected.

What I Expect: The squad depth gets tested at these times of the season. Even without European competition this Liverpool team are being asked questions about their ability to cope without players due to international commitments and injuries. With some tricky matches coming up, if they can negotiate through them as well as they have done so far, they should feel confident about a top four place.

Progress Grade: A – Many predicted that Liverpool would be competing for the top four. Not so many predicted that Liverpool would be listed as a title contender. Even less would see the Reds being ahead of City and United.

Arsenal:

What I Expected: This one is interesting. If you read this blog for any length of time you’ll know that Arsenal are a constant source of intrigue to me. Arsenal fans rightly expected their team to be proper and true title contenders this season. I didn’t expect them to be title contenders because of how reliable they are at flattering to deceive settling for their usual top four finish.

What I Received: To a large degree Arsenal have lived up to expectations. There’s talk about a change in their mentality, but that’s not reflected in their league position. They can steamroller teams, their attack is very good and on paper their defence should be a lot better that it has been with the cover they’ve bought in to make the midfield harder to pass through. For all that, though, their league position at the moment is a reflection of how they are doing and have been doing for years.

What I Expect: Maybe in the second half of the season they will rally to the cause, making the most of those around them dropping points and putting on the sort of run that will see them seriously competing to be the Premier League champions. Nope. Can’t see it. This is Arsenal. Their goal as ever will be to finish top four and above Spurs – and that goal is not that straightforward with how Spurs are doing and how those behind them will snap at their heels.

Progress Grade: B – I eventually gave them a B rather than a C not because they are doing well but because they are not disappointing that much out of character. They are not bang average. They are doing well … kinda. Though it just feels like typical Arsenal – but take the B grade and be done with it.

Man City:

What I Expected: City not finishing in the top three last season was baffling. An astonishing failing on a team that is built to challenge for the title. Never mind, though, because here comes Guardiola and some new signings purchased with a lot of money. With the stars they already have there is no wonder they are being tipped as winners of the league. Maybe I edged it to their Mancunian cousins, but there’s no doubt they should be right up there scrapping to the end.

What I Received: Errrrrr … Well this is odd. It’s January and Guardiola has already thrown in the towel saying they ain’t gonna win the league. I mean at the start of the season they were racing away with it, consecutive wins to the double digits and scoring goals for fun. They were doing that without Yaya Toure too. To say the momentum has stopped would be an understatement. Five defeats already in the league – five!! I am still shaking my head at just how poorly they have done. I want to put it down to Pep adjusting to the league and all the other transitional stuff you can throw out. Seriously, though, ten points off the top and a defence that looks as solid as soaked bread. It’s just incredible to observe.

What I Expect: For some reason, there’s something in me that says that the club itself just won’t stand for this kind of form. They won’t treat it like a settling in season. They will snap out of it and turn on some more form to the end of the season to pursue a place in the top four and a better taste to the end of the season. They have the players to do it and that’s what I am expecting.

Progress Grade: C – You could argue they should get a lower grade than this. You could make a very good argument indeed, but their placing in the league especially where the points are concerned still says the beginning of the season was enough to keep them in the hunt for a top four place – maybe even as high as second. In that reading it would be wrong to give them a low grade. They are certainly not deserving, however, of anything higher than this.

Man Utd:

What I Expected: Mourinho, Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Mkhitaryan. United were not messing around. They would put the disappointment of the previous season behind them and just blast off to the top of the table. While others were singing the praises of Guardiola and mocking Mourinho for the way his Chelsea stint ended, I retained faith in Mourinho. I thought his knowledge of the league and the big players joining the club would just get them off to a flying start.

What I Received: Writing this in January if I told you that United went on a 15 match unbeaten run and only saw a good winning streak stopped by a draw against Liverpool, you would have thought that sounded promising. If I told you they were in sixth place, you would rightly be scratching your head. If I went on to tell you that they had lost as many games as Chelsea in first place you would be mystified even further. Therein, however, is the story of what has been a slow start to the season. That slow start has been costly not even for the losses, but for the draws. For all that though, their performances have been better than under LvG and of recent times their signings have been living up to their billing as top footballers. Their current relentless style is saying volumes about the rising confidence back at Old Trafford. It’s taken time, though, as frustrating draws have now turned to clinical victories.

What I Expect: It’s odd to say looking at the five teams above them, but I expect United to finish in the top four. I expect it because they are actually still improving. Mourinho has crafted a style of play utilising the resources at his disposal and now United are a threat wherever they go. They go into matches believing they should win and can win and that makes the world of difference to this team. This is something that is not scheduled to end whatever the opposition. Their star quality as well can see them beat the others from the top five (other than Liverpool who they have already played twice) even Chelsea.

Progress Grade: C – They have not done as well as they should have done with what they have on offer. But they are definitely moving in the right direction and still improving, which should be a concern to the teams above them.

Everton:

What I Expected: To be honest it was an interesting thing considering what Everton could achieve in the season. They didn’t make that many outstanding signings and they have been underachieving for a while. I expected them to do better than last year, Koeman was a step up from Martinez and so it was reasonable to expect them to do better.

What I Received: If you go by the league placing then Everton can’t complain at all. If you go by the performances, though, then there might be the odd issue with how Koeman is settling in. Some performances have been questionable and yet from that there emerges the result against City that reinforces their position in the table.

What I Expect: More of the same really. They have made a couple of signings and may make one or two more but their idea of trajectory upwards is stymied by the fact they are nowhere near good enough to challenge the top six yet. They can certainly look at being more consistent and strong in their playing identity and of those outside the top six they remain the most likely to finish in the highest golden mediocre spot.

Progress Grade: C – Have they done that much better than expected? Nope. Have they done that much worse than expected? Nope. Have they kinda hit where you would expect a team like them to end up? Yep. That is the devastation of bang average.

West Brom:

What I Expected: West Brom are the type of club that might flirt with relegation, but they’re not really going to get relegated. They are not going to do much else either but meander around the lower reaches of the table.

What I Received: The start of the season saw the type of West Brom I was expecting. Then, seemingly out of nowhere West Brom turned into a team that … scored goals. In a couple of those matches a Tony Pulis team was even entertaining. Yeah I can’t believe it either, but it’s true. They scored goals, won matches and got themselves in the top half of the table. You look at the table now and they’re still there.

What I Expect: They have done well enough to establish their credential as a Premier League club again. A combination of the quality of the squad they already have, the points they have accumulated and those below them means I don’t even expect West Brom to dally with relegation, really. They will dip, they will lose matches, but they will do enough to even contemplate the idea of even finishing in the top half of the table.

Progress Grade: B – They are doing far better than expected without going over the top and saying they are having an outstanding season. It’s good progress from the side to be able to do better than expected at this stage of the season. Who knows what might happen if they strengthen the squad as Pulis desires. For now fans shouldn’t have too much to gripe about with their football life at the Hawthorns.

Stoke City:

What I Expected: Mark Hughes is at that tricky stage as a manager. He is not settling down anymore. He’s not working anything out at the club anymore. He is well established at Stoke City and the overall signs are relatively positive as to his impact. He now has to take that another step by doing well in the league. They should be among those who would think it’s only tight that they finish in the top half of the table.

What I Received: The start to the season was horrific. At one stage it even looked like the pressure would get too much for them. Thankfully they have managed to turn that around and climbed well above the relegation zone. They are even in the top half of the table, which must make them wonder where they would be if they hadn’t started the season so badly.

What I Expect: They are currently in the top half and although they don’t look capable of troubling Everton in 7th place, they should have enough to make a competitive effort of gaining a top half finish.

Progress Grade: C – That start of the season cannot be brushed off and although the reaction has been positive, fans are right to still feel the jury is out as to whether or not they really are making progress.

Burnley:

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Watford:

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Leicester City:

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Crystal Palace:

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Hull City:

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Sunderland:

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It is a fascinating thing to see how things will end up at the end of the season. There’s much intrigue in terms of how the top four will turn out. Those who are battling against relegation will find it even tougher in the final months of the season and it will truly be that collection of players who can muster some degree of teamwork to make it work. So much to look forward to as the second half continues. As ever …

Let’s see how it goes.

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

Premier League Prediction – Week 19

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FA Cup, League Cup, domestic trophies, both. Yeah, well now that is out of the picture for the time being we can resume with the big business of the league campaign. Seems like so long since a league game was played, but now we’re back at it. Let’s consider how the previous round of games went.

As ever the points system for the predictions work as follows- three points for a spot on scoreline, one point for the right outcome and nothing for nothing.

Middlesbrough 1-1 Leicester City (1 point – actual score 0-0)

Everton 2-1 Southampton (1 point – actual score 3-0)

Man City 3-0 Burnley (1 point – actual score 2-1)

Sunderland 0-4 Liverpool (0 points – actual score 2-2)

West Brom 3-1 Hull City (3 points)

West Ham 1-2 Man Utd (1 point – actual score 0-2)

Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal (0 points – actual score 3-3)

Crystal Palace 1-0 Swansea (0 points – actual score 1-2)

Stoke City 2-2 Watford (0 points – actual score 2-0)

Tottenham 1-2 Chelsea (0 points – actual score 2-0)

Seven points is not a good score to collect, yet it’s even worse when we look at the percentage of correct outcomes which only mustered a below par 40%. Not the best outcome for me in this set of predictions. Some of which might have to be down to the fact that some had to play so soon after they had played previously. No consolation though. Though when the correct scoreline I get is a game featuring West Brom scoring more than two goals, then that is a clear sign that these are strange days indeed.

There now awaits another round of games for me to ponder and predict and hopefully garner a better collection of points than the last time out.

Tottenham 2-1 West Brom: This should be an intriguing fixture primarily because West Brom are putting together a better points collection this season than they have in a while. It’s gone beyond saying it’s a fluke for them. It is down to the entire squad adapting well to the requirements of Pulis and getting the results to go with it. Sure, the FA Cup defeat wasn’t good, but Pulis has not built a reputation for teams winning things. He’s built a reputation for teams that are hard to beat. Meanwhile Spurs are running into a spot of form themselves and will not just be glad to have progressed in the FA Cup, they will be looking to build off a very good win against the apparently unstoppable Chelsea the last time they had a league fixture. This will not be as easy as other home fixtures Spurs have had of late, the players should certainly know they have been in a struggle when the final whistle blows at the end of this match. There is a quality gap between these two clubs, though, as evidenced in their season’s aspirations. West Brom are in the top half and delirious about it. Spurs are in the top four and battling to stay there. That quality should be the difference in this match.

Burnley 2-1 Southampton: Ahhhhhh Southampton. It was going fairly well. It wasn’t going great, but there were signs that once more the club had made an astute signing bringing in Puel to take over from Koeman. At the moment, though, the Saints are in a tricky patch where in the league they are getting the wrong results at the wrong places. It’s not the best time to be visiting Turf Moor. More and more Sean Dyche is looking like he might pull it off and keep Burnley in the Premier League for the season which in large part will be down to their form at home. The team ethos, the will to make it all about the joint effort and not making a fuss over individuals has forged a tough identity for the Lancastrian side. That cracking home form should see them feeling confident facing a Saints side that has little in the way of a significant attacking threat. As ever, though, this is a Premier League match and Southampton won’t be pushovers in anysense of the word. Looking at who can win this match is not a quality issue, it’s a matter of character and at present that is why the North West side look better equipped to get the three points from this encounter.

Hull City 1-1 Bournemouth: In as much as I wasn’t predicting Phelan’s sacking, it has not come as much of a shock to the system. I am sure it’s not the first time and unlikely to be the last where a successful caretaker spell leads to a huge fail when a permanent appointment is subsequently made. This seems like a great time for Bournemouth to pop in then while there’s still a settling period taking in with the new manager. Eddie Howe may be kicking themselves over throwing a three goal lead away and then getting dumped out of the FA Cup unceremoniously, but their goal at the start of the season would have been staying in the Premier League if at all possible. To that end they will be saving themselves for games like this where they know they have a fighting chance of getting maximum points to help their cause. They will consider the personnel available at Hull City to put out a fit first team squad and they could be licking their lips at the possibility of facing so many novices. Yet their record away from the Vitality Stadium and the unknown factor of what the new guy can bring into Humberside team is reason to think getting the three points will not be as easy as taking candy from a baby.

Sunderland 1-2 Stoke City: Sunderland are fighting for survival in the Premier League. They are very close to that points-wise. They are only third from bottom. They are just one point away from safety. Yet it is not that straightforward for the Mackems. They are two points off rock bottom of the table and they know any slip ups will give hope to Crystal Palace, the team above them. Gaining a point at home to Liverpool was almost seen as a win for them and understandably so. They look at other games as the ones where they need to be picking up the points. Games like this one against the Potters. Stoke City are at present being their usual erratic and inconsistent selves. Just when it looks like they turn a corner, the corner proves to be a mirage. Just when it looks like they couldn’t score to save their lives, they can pluck up a win seemingly from nowhere. There is no doubt, however, that this will not be important to them when they travel up north. Hughes has said that their target is 7th place. It’s good that they have a target, but from now they have to cut out some of the sloppy performances that have seen them concede a lot of goals in recent games. Sunderland will feel they can get the better of Stoke. Yet there should still be enough about the side from Staffordshire to give them the edge in this fixture.

Swansea 0-3 Arsenal: Apparently, Arsenal see themselves as title contenders. Genuine, honest, proper title contenders. So what are they doing in 5th place? What are they doing celebrating a comeback from 3 goals down to draw at Bournemouth? A draw at Bournemouth is reason to be happy. Oh, wait a minute, yeah everything about the spirit and their mentality that they won’t give up and thing. Regular Arsenal observers, however, will detect something only too familiar about the Gunners position. Sure, they could win the league. It’s not impossible. Results like the one at Bournemouth, however, are still two points dropped in looking to catch up a significant points gap. Thankfully, however, they can now do their chances the world of good with a trip to Wales. They should have beaten Bournemouth, no doubt, but in Swansea they face a side who are virtually there as the whipping boys to the big teams. Bradley has gone and been replaced by another newbie to the Premier League. Clement might have some experience as an assistant but the hot seat is a completely different kettle of fish. As far as that kettle is concerned, things will certainly boil up for him in this encounter. Those fighting relegation usually see games like this as a chance to look for a bonus, like nabbing a point if at all possible. Yet with the dire quality of this Swansea side, there shouldn’t be a possibility especially when facing a team that is making claims to be genuine, honest, proper title contenders.

Watford 1-1 Middlesbrough: This is unlikely to be the match of the day. That statement right there is another bid for understatement of the year. Watford are not on a good run of form at the moment. Their performances don’t encourage much in the way of positivity either. There’s little that can be done in this January transfer window to drastically transform their fortunes and so they are left to scrap it out in a tough second half of the season that could still see them sucked into the relegation struggle. A team that is closer to that struggle is Middlesbrough. It’s not that surprising that they are struggling as much because they are a side promoted, but they might feel a little aggrieved that for the money spent on attacking talent they have not seen that much in the way of a return with the goals. That and their away record does not make this match look like much in the way of a game to see the goals flowing. The home side will be looking to set things right for the run in the second half of the league campaign and they might be encouraged by that poor away form of the side they face, but there’s something about this fixture that screams more of the kind of draw that does absolutely nothing to appease any of those with doubts.

West Ham 2-1 Crystal Palace: Just when you thought it was safe to think West Ham were turning a corner, it then becomes apparent that their nightmare of a first season at their new stadium rumbles on. Now it’s the issue about their best player, Payet, not wanting to play. I say Payet is their best player, but there’s been little to suggest that he looks like the player who had a dazzling display at the Euros. The  mood of the club is something that has been symptomatic of some of his performances this season. This issue is unlikely to cheer the home crowd who are still grumbling at the way things are going on their own patch. For all this to happen in time for the visit of their former manager is not going to be good for them. Big Sam will be relishing the opportunity to further the troubles at his old club with his new club. Despite the defeat to Swansea, he will still believe his team is more than capable of putting a decent performance that will stymie the home side and go on to dare hope they can leave with all three points. So in the light of all of that it’s a bit odd that I’m still going for a home win. But this is one of those predictions that is done in reflection of the quirky way that league results can spring up.

Leicester 1-3 Chelsea: They are still to be referred to as the Premier League champions, because they still have the trophy they lifted last May. They are the reigning champions. To say that is a thing of the past is pretty evident with their placing in the table at the moment. It will be significant achievement if they finish this season in the top half of the table. Meanwhile their visitors may have suffered their first defeat in 14 games, but that was after that run of 13 straight wins that leaves them in a position of being able to lose that game and still being five points clear. They could afford to lose this match and still be top of the league. They will not lose this match. It was a great result for Leicester to beat Man City at home. It will take something more however to beat this Chelsea side. Chelsea’s defensive record through the season has been impressive and of course their attack is still something to be very wary of. In as much as eyes might be watching to see how they will react to that defeat in the league, their set-up suggests they have the resilience and character to get back to winning ways. Whereas for Leicester the signs are that it will take a massive effort to upset the likelihood that their victory of last season is an ever fading memory.

Everton 1-2 Man City: Other than the disappointing Cup exit, things at Goodison Park are looking a little better than it did. Their recent meeting gave fans hope that things are moving in the right direction and so far they have been active in the transfer market with the significant purchase of Schneiderlin. That kind of business can have a positive effect on the club and particularly the playing staff knowing that the owner means business when it comes to strengthening the squad. In Lukaku they have a striker who on his day is still a threat to most defences. Speaking of which, the Man City defence has come under increasing scrutiny for their lapses that have lead to conceding. So the City will do well to keep a clean sheet in this game. City, however, also have the onus on them to keep up their title credentials and so nothing less than a win will do for them. Where that’s concerned they still have a troublesome set of attackers that can cause the Everton defence even more concerns than their Mancunian counterparts. Aguerro will certainly see the need to get back on the scoring business in the league. There should be ample that keeps the fans keen to see how the home side will face the Guardiola philosophy. There is something about getting tight and tough with the City lads that might give the home side some hope, but often in these affairs when it gets scrappy and ugly it’s the quality that emerges to make the difference. As that might well be the case the Citizens should feel they have enough to edge it.

Man Utd 2-2 Liverpool: This is still a big game in English football. Despite not having won the league in 27 years and only having finished in the top four once in the last five years, Liverpool are still considered to be a big club in the domestic game. Their form this season thus far has seen some look positively at them beginning to actually perform in a way that reflects the accolade of a big club. There may still be question marks over the defence, but in the last two matches there have been concerns over the attack with Liverpool failing to score in those games that have coincided with the departure of Mane to the African Cup of Nations. Now as they face their biggest rival it’s all the more crucial that they can find their scoring boots. What makes matters even more daunting for their visit to Old Trafford is the form of the home side. They have been accumulating the wins and the points and are now in legitimate striking distance of the top four itself. Another win to add to their run at the moment and especially against the old enemy would represent a massive boost to their chances and in bringing Liverpool closer to them may give them hopes of even getting the second place spot. United have not necessarily put in blistering performances, but their game management has been masterful and it’s difficult to recall a time in a match where they looked in jeopardy of losing the game. Unlike the clash at Anfield, being at home puts the onus on them to be on the front foot, yet they face a team that is more than used to that and have a pressing play that can upset their rhythm. It makes for an intriguing contest, that’s for sure.

That really is a super Sunday with Merseyside taking on Manchester and what about that tasty fixture between the last champions and the favourites to take their crown. There are some good ties this weekend and I am confident that the points tally this weekend will work in my favour.

Let’s see how it goes.

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

We Keep Rolling – Life Among Friends in 2017

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Year in and year out.

The year out that was 2016 was a good one for me personally. On this site, not necessarily as prolific as I would have liked or as expansive in some ways. I am glad that at the start of the Premier League season for 2016/17 I was able to get some content down regularly in terms of the fixture predictions.

When it came to movies last year, I could not help but have a sense of disappointment. That came about because of the level of expectation when you saw the movies released. Other than Civil War, the other big super hero films were not great. At best they were acceptable.

Thankfully the hype won’t get much bigger this year because the only super hero movie with something big going for it is Spider-Man: Homecoming. The DC Cinematic Universe is playing catch-up big time, so the degree of expectation for Wonder Woman and the Justice League movie are certainly tempered.

Music is still a major interest here on Among Friends even if it hasn’t been frequented in 2016. That should hopefully change as we keep rolling.

What I did enjoy in 2016 culturally was the Luke Cage series on Netflix. That was a good watch through. Daredevil season 2 was an enjoyable watch too. Marvel certainly have that covered in a good way where storytelling is concerned. Iron Fist coming out this year has a lot to live up to, but the degree of consistency that Marvel have developed gives a degree of trust that they can do the right thing by this character as they head towards The Defenders.

2017 on Among Friends is about the importance of just keeping rolling. The idea is to have at least one post a week on the different areas of interest that AF covers. Dr. Who returns for series 10 in the Spring. The year absence was an interesting move to make for the series, I have some thoughts about that and the upcoming series, but that should pop up nearer the time.

So we just be rolling and anything new pops up you will be the first to know.

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

Premier League Prediction – Week 18 Part 2

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Ahhhhhh you know it. Football is on the go again as the New Year gets going. There’s already been an interesting run of games. Now to fill us up further before the FA Cup begins there is another batch of top flight fixtures to intrigue us. It takes us over the half-way point in the Premier League and there will be a review on that just as soon as this series of games is over.

As clubs finish one set of games and others are prepared to start their next set, let’s review how part one went. Points are awarded in the following way – three points for a correct scoreline; one point for just the correct outcome and zero points for getting it totally wrong. 

Hull City 0-2 Everton (0 points – actual score 2-2)

Burnley 2-1 Sunderland (1 point – actual score 4-1)

Chelsea 4-0 Stoke City (1 point – actual score 4-2)

Leicester 1-1 West Ham (0 points – actual score 1-0)

Man Utd 3-0 Middlesbrough (1 point – actual score 2-1) 

Southampton 1-1 West Brom (0 points – actual score 1-2)

Swansea 1-2 Bournemouth (1 point – actual score 0-3)

Liverpool 3-2 Man City (1 point – actual score 1-0)

Watford 0-2 Tottenham (1 point – actual score 1-4)

Arsenal 3-1 Crystal Palace (1 point – actual score 2-0)

On the one hand where it came to outcomes I did as well as I have been doing lately with 70% score. Unfortunately I didn’t nab any correct scorelines and so have to settle for seven points. Not that I am settling for that but it stimulates a desire to do better in the next set of fixtures. 

As teams adjust to the crush of games predicting how they will do may vary wildly, but that’s the fun of predicting. So let’s see what the match ups look like on this occasion. 

Middlesbrough 1-1 Leicester City

Everton 2-1 Southampton

Man City 3-0 Burnley

Sunderland 0-4 Liverpool

West Brom 3-1 Hull City

West Ham 1-2 Man Utd

Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal

Crystal Palace 1-0 Swansea

Stoke City 2-2 Watford

Tottenham 1-2 Chelsea

Big game is undoubtedly the last one. I wouldn’t be surprised if Spurs actually pulled a win from the encounter, but Chelsea just appear irresistible at the moment. 

Let’s see how it goes

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden