The end of the season draws near. The league games are coming in thick and fast. There are still things to play for and some are of the opinion it’s a case of game on in the title race. I am not sure about that, but at least the procession is not as inevitable as was the case.
Three of the league’s top sides and Arsenal play in the semi-final of the FA Cup over the weekend and that looks like mouthwatering encounters and also piles up their league programme for the final weeks. Can their competitors take advantage of this? Before we preview the few league matches taking place this weekend before midweek action, let’s look back on how I did with the action last weekend. Points at stake in predicting the outcome and they reflect the points system in the league. Three points for a spot on prediction, one point for just a correct outcome and zero points for getting it wrong.
Tottenham 3-1 Bournemouth (1 point – actual score 4-0)
Crystal Palace 2-1 Leicester (0 points – actual score 2-2)
Everton 3-0 Burnley (1 point – actual score 3-1)
Stoke City 2-1 Hull City (1 point – actual score 3-1)
Sunderland 1-2 West Ham (0 points – actual score 2-2)
Watford 1-1 Swansea City (0 points – actual score 1-0)
Southampton 2-3 Man City (1 point – actual score 0-3)
West Brom 1-1 Liverpool (0 points – actual score 0-1)
Man Utd 2-1 Chelsea (1 point – actual score 2-0)
Middlesbrough 0-3 Arsenal (1 point – actual score 1-2)
Hmmmmmmm not a good week points wise picking up a paltry six points. Not shabby in terms of a 60% outcome statistic, but it goes to show that a spot on prediction can make all the difference to a points total. It’s amazing how agonisingly close I was to spot on scores, but therein is the challenge.
That challenge continues into the six games played in the league this weekend. Let us look at them.
Bournemouth 2-0 Middlesbrough: It’s unlikely that this will be the game of the season. Both clubs are not in a good way and for the visitors in particular three points will be precious indeed. Middlesbrough are in a relegation scrap but don’t appear to know how to fight. They may have scored against Arsenal, but who hasn’t? Plus it was the chances they missed again that proved costly in yet another defeat. Their inability to score is proving to be their downfall and there is little to suggest that they have what it takes to get themselves out of this situation. That’s not to say Bournemouth will just have to turn up to win. They know another defeat in this game could see them be drawn into a scrap. Howe needs to re-establish his team’s ability to win games of football to give them security. This could be the ideal occasion to do that.
Hull City 2-1 Watford: It’s unlikely that this will be the game of the season. Watford are in a safe zone. Their win against Swansea was enough to give them a good cushion from the drop zone. Their achievement in retaining their league status is worthy of applause. They don’t convince as a Premier League outfit, there aren’t any outstanding players that get the pulses racing and they are hardly beacons of managerial consistency and yet they survive. They survived well. That knowledge in the back of the head can have a slightly negative effect against teams that have more to play for. Hull have more to play for. It’s incredible to think that a team so poor at one point of the season are still in with a fighting chance of staying in the Premier League. If Watford are an unlikely Premier League outfit, Hull fit that billing even more. Yet Silva has imprinted a rugged and tenacious approach to the game that won’t see them beaten easily. Do they have enough quality to stay up? I am not convinced, but I do think their fighting spirit will see them just about nab the three points.
Swansea 2-1 Stoke City: It’s unlikely that this will be the game of the season. Stoke may have won their last game, but they are not convincing anyone. For whatever reason the signs of stagnation are becoming all the more evident in the play. They are not phoning it in and they are not suffering from safety complacency, they are, however, struggling to push on from consolidating their place as a midtable side. Are they in need of refreshing? Whatever they are in need of, they need to be alert in this game. They face a Swansea who have no room for complacency at all because they have a battle on their hands to escape the dreaded drop. If they put their best foot forward and aggressively attack with intent, converting their chances they can get the much needed three points to assist them in the struggle. They have it in them to do it.
West Ham 1-3 Everton: It’s unlikely that this will be the game of the season. The main reason West Ham will survive this season is because there are four teams below them who are worse than them. This is hardly a reassuring position for the club to be in following last season’s progress. The ownership hardly help that with their public pronouncements. Yet that wouldn’t be the case if West Ham were playing well. When was the last time West Ham played well? Have they played well this season at all? This home game can set a good stance going forward. Yet they face an Everton side who are doing well and are keen to maintain their overall good form. They can finish this season strong and set a base for the busy summer ahead. They are still in a position to breathe pressure on the likes of United and Arsenal. Lukaku on form could be a handful for any defence and the Hammers might be on the receiving of another strong display from the Toffees.
Burnley 1-2 Man Utd: It’s unlikely that this will be the game of the season. Burnley will be licking their lips at catching United at this time. They have beaten Everton and Liverpool at Turf Moor and home is definitely where the heart is as far as their good play is concerned. They face a United side who are exhausted from their exertions in the Europe League quarter final. With more injuries picked up in that game, United not only have recovery to consider, but selection to think through too. They know they face a Burnley side who will be up for the scrap. There is something canny about United, though, and they will have a fresh Herrera available to put himself about in midfield. They still go into this game with enough quality to play their part in a competent performance. It is in the light of this that I reckon against the pressure and run of games they can still emerge with three points.
Liverpool 3-1 Crystal Palace: It’s unlikely that this will be the game of the season. Somehow Liverpool have gone to the Hawthorns and Stoke-on-Trent and emerged with six points. They didn’t play pretty, they didn’t have Mane or Lallana. They played two teams who pride themselves on being awkward to face. They did so with question marks over their ability to beat inferior sides. They have done a lot better than people expected. They are now back at Anfield and although they face the return of Benteke in a team managed by Sam Allardyce there will be greater pressure for the Reds to maintain the good form. Big Sam knows his side are not safe yet and would be hoping to follow up recent wins against Chelsea and Arsenal with another compact and competitive display that can take advantage of the defensive flaws. Liverpool will have to be wary of the wiles of Palace, but they have it in their own hands to determine their destiny.
As you may have got the impression with these predictions, it’s unlikely that 8we will witness the game of the season in this list of fixtures. Maybe more attention will be given to the semi final games, but these league fixtures play a pivotal part in how the final league table will turn out.
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden