Teams could have made significant strides to competing with Chelsea and largely failed. Teams could have made significant strides to easing away from the relegation zone and some teams made the most of that, where others sunk deeper. It’s the Premier League ramping up the action as the end becomes clearer in sight.
Let us consider how I did in the games earlier this week. There are points at stake as ever with these predictions and those points work in the same way as the points do in the league. That is three points for a spot on correction, one point for just getting the right outcome and absolutely nothing if I got both of those wrong.
Arsenal 3-0 Watford (0 points – actual score 1-2)
Bournemouth 2-1 Crystal Palace (0 points – actual score 0-2)
Burnley 2-1 Leicester City (1 point – actual score 1-0)
Middlesbrough 1-1 West Brom (3 points)
Sunderland 0-2 Tottenham (0 points – actual score 0-0)
Swansea 2-1 Southampton (3 points)
Liverpool 2-1 Chelsea (0 points – actual score 1-1)
West Ham 1-3 Man City (1 point – actual score 0-4)
Man Utd 4-0 Hull City (0 points – actual score 0-0)
Stoke City 1-1 Everton (3 points)
Well look at that, can’t remember the last time I got three game predictions spot on. That’s a pleasant site and that’s a great contribution to the final score for the round 11 points. In terms of the percentage of correct outcomes, though, it was a disappointing 50%.
No need to rest on that however, as with the game there’s plenty of chances to do better the next time around. So let us consider this weekend’s games.
Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal: No surprise that this is the game of the weekend. A lot rests on the outcome of this match. Chelsea find themselves facing the second game against a potential rival for their position at top spot. Getting a draw at Anfield has been viewed overall as a positive result. They cannot, however, afford to continue to drop points if they want to secure the title that is very much in their grip. A win in this match would do much to move them in that direction. Whereas for Arsenal the surprise defeat at home to Watford suddenly sharpens their focus on what it is that they’re really fighting for this season. This is a game that they know they must win if they want any hope of catching Chelsea, otherwise the season will be considered another disappointment. Arsenal have the quality in their squad to compete against Chelsea. They have a stunning attack who tend to score in most games and they have a goalkeeper who knows Chelsea very well. The question remains whether they have the mental capacity to deal with the game’s ebbs and flows. They will not face a harder away match for in Chelsea they face the best team in the league for a reason – resolute, formidable, relentless and able to bounce back from setbacks. For those reasons alone in what will be a tough match the advantage has to go to the home side.
Crystal Palace 3-1 Sunderland: From the match of the weekend in quality, to the second most important match of the weekend. No it won’t be a festival of football delight. Don’t expect flicks and tricks or stunning displays of tactical genius. Nope this is what is referred to as a six-pointer. Both teams find themselves at the wrong end of the table scrabbling to get out of the mess their poor performances have left them in. A precious three points for either side will be more welcome than a free holiday to Barbados all expenses paid in the middle of winter. This also sees the first time Sam Allardyce will face the last club he managed. No ill feeling will be experienced from either party, but likewise sentiment won’t get in the way of both looking to get the win. While Sunderland celebrated a surprise draw at home to Spurs with the added bonus of a clean sheet, Crystal Palace emerged with a much needed three points from their slugfest at Bournemouth and again they got a clean sheet from the experience. Looking at both sides, the home side really should have enough to edge it past their rivals. Moyes will endeavour to utilise his new signings to bolster their defence and ensure that the clean sheet will be a pattern, but Palace should have enough going forward to be a nuisance and pierce through the resistance
Everton 2-1 Bournemouth: Eddie Howe must be scratching his head a little. At the moment it’s not a crisis, but losing to Crystal Palace makes their position in the league just a little tenuous. Nothing too serious yet, but he won’t want this to become a habit at this stage of the season. Not the best time to go visiting Goodison Park, though. Koeman will be glad to see his side keep fighting to emerge from the tussle at Stoke City with a draw to keep their little unbeaten run going and keep on looking up to what they could achieve rather than at those chasing their position. The squad is a little stronger for the transfer window and this will be a good opportunity to see them flex that opportunity at home. They are clicking into gear at the right time of the season and if they don’t take this game for granted they could very well run up a large score against the side that don’t do all that well on their travels.
Hull City 1-3 Liverpool: Liverpool should lose this match. That’s nothing to do with their recent awful form in 2017 so far, this is something about Hull City in particular. They somehow love being the sort of annoying team that gets to beat Liverpool. With the Reds being in generous mood with inferior rivals, Hull are ripe to take advantage of that. This follows their sturdy performance at Old Trafford where they left with a point and a clean sheet after a superlative effort by their goalkeeper. The new manager is not so much the mug after all with a number of creditable performances. They see a way out of the relegation zone if they keep up their current run, they see a way out. It is not so much mission impossible. Especially if they can capitalise on games like this. Games where they should be onto a loser. The main reason why I am still going for an away spanking is that two great performances in a row for a team with Hull’s resources is a stretch. They will be a team that has a relatively decent amount of recovery time to be able to focus their energies on what is their sole concern for the rest of the season. That kind of focus should let them see each game as even more important than ever before. Winning this game is more important than ever before. They have a team that looks more ready to take on these kind of games like before. This game should see them start getting in the mood to return to winning ways.
Southampton 1-1 West Ham: The Hammers were torn apart in their match against City. It was a case of the masters putting the apprentices in their place. That king of humbling defeat puts their season in perspective. As it looks at the moment it will be something of an achievement to finish in the top half of the table. They would do their chances the world of good by getting three points at St. Mary’s. The home side are not doing so well of late, the semi-final win at Anfield securing their position at the EFL Cup final has had the predictable effect of making it harder for the players to rise to the occasion when it comes to their regular league duties.This is not something that Puel will want to see maintained as they look at getting some sort of run together to also go chasing to secure a top half finish to the season. Though they have the record signing in their ranks there is still the settling-in period to take into account. Whilst all of that is happening they will not want to let their focus slip too much. They will want to make this a competitive effort for their home fans so they don’t pick this dropping points deal as a habit. They may find their visitors, however, a tough nut to crack. Thus with those factors in place this is set for a draw.
Watford 2-1 Burnley: I have to admit I did not see it coming at all. Mazzari has not set the league alight with the way Watford go about their business. There’s nothing that much different in how they perform now to how they performed last season. Yet there they go up against Arsenal and can get into them straight from the first whistle and manage to return to Hertfordshire with all three points. That is a massive boost in their efforts to retain their Premier League status. Now they have the not as arduous challenge of facing at home one of the worst teams away from home in the league. Burnley away from home are a mess. Their saving grace is their home form, because away from home they have been dire. It is odd, though, because Dyche has put together a hard working football team. They don’t have outstanding individuals and leave it to the outstanding team ethic to make all the difference. That should be as successful home and away. It’s not just the fans that are baffled, so Dyche will be looking for a match like this to be able to turn that form around. Watford are there for the taking due largely to their patchy and inconsistent form, so it could the time and the chance to pop the balloon that’s kept the home side buzzing. Yet perhaps it’s time for Watford to do something they rarely do and go and win two games in a row.
West Brom 1-1 Stoke City: It seems for the longest time that these two sides have had a somewhat niggling relationship. They are not the outright most fearsome Midlands derby there is, but there appears to be a little something about this tie which has fans from both sides a little more antagonistic than usual. That irritant has been flared up again with the arrival of Berahino from the Hawthorns up to Stoke. Recent suggestions and comments have not been all that flattering from the former club to the player. Likewise implications from the new club raise questions about what was going on at the last club. Should he come on the pitch it’s unlikely that he will be greeted with warm wishes from the home side. This could all be a convenient smokescreen, however, to two teams who essentially slugging it out for a place at near the top of the middle of the table. It’s the ultimate fight for mediocrity. These two teams are fairly similar in many ways including the quality of the playing staff. Both teams can score, without ever threatening to be anything prolific on a regular basis. Crouch has his 100th Premier League goal now, so he’s not desperate for that much now. Pulis likes his record usually against former clubs. So it’s set up neatly for a tussle that could see both sides fight each other to a standstill.
Tottenham 3-0 Middlesbrough: Spurs won’t be happy. They have had two games where the level of performance has been disappointing and in the last game they failed to beat Sunderland, worse still they even couldn’t manage to score against a team so generous that it’s surprising they are not just a registered charity such is their nature of giving. Pochettino will want to do something about that as soon as possible and they face a team that they should really beat … again. Boro seem adverse to scoring. Their record away from home is not something to be pleased about either. If they show up to White Hart Lane and perform anything like they have in those games then Spurs will smash them to pieces where the final result is concerned. Something Boro can do fairly competently is defend. They don’t usually concede many. That rigid defensive system is evidently proving very useful and it will certainly need to as they face the barrage of attacking options that Spurs call on.
Man City 4-0 Swansea City: It has been a breath of fresh air at the Liberty Stadium. Before Clement they were at the bottom of the table without a hope of survival. Two win later and they are looking at pulling away further from that dreadful drop. They face, however, Manchester City. For the indifferent results they got in the league, there was never anything to suggest that they were a poor football side. They play arguably the most attractive style of football which has been found out by a few teams and they have not always been as clinical as their chances suggested. The result against West Ham would have done them the world of good to know they can get back on the scoring front. Swansea are many things, but stingy in defence is not one of them and if City can rack up four against West Ham with Aguerro on the bench, there’s no reason why they can’t put the Welsh side to the sword if they maintain that clinical nature.
Leicester City 1-3 Man Utd: Some have argued that United’s draw against Hull in the week saw them back to their worst. Some even mentioned that it was as bad as the LvG. That’s because some have very selective and poor memories. United may have not been as sharp in front of goal as they should have been but overall this season they have shown progress. They are not the LvG stodgy style of play and they are far better than they ever were under Moyes. They have a chance to close the gap still further on those ahead of them and they have the core of players who can make that a reality. They particularly have a good game to get the chance to gain those points because of who they face. Leicester didn’t do much in the transfer window to indicate they were going to be better than they were before. And before in the league even without Champions League matches they were not good at all. They have gone out of their way to keep a player who wants to leave because they don’t want to sell him to a competitor and when that competitor is Sunderland that should be all you need to know about how bad they are. There is little to suggest that they can use this game to climb out of their predicament. They have beaten the other Manchester side at home, though, which might be a source of some hope. Yet the team that are still referred to as the Premier League champions will have a lot to do to salvage any aspect of that credibility back in this match.
There are the games that take place this weekend. It would be lovely to repeat the feat of getting more than one correct scoreline and if the majority of matches can have the same result it will be the sort of improvement I would heartily recommend. Whether that will happen or not …
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden