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.
C. L. J. Dryden