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.
C. L. J. Dryden