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.
C. L. J. Dryden