There are phrases I particularly get tickled by. One of them is, the games are coming in thick and fast. That phrase. Just hilarious. As though the number of games are like a blizzard. They are not like a blizzard at all. Though their plenteous nature is truly welcomed by someone who enjoys his Premier League football like my good self.
Before tuck into the feast of further football that awaits let us look at the games that have just been played this week and see how I did with the old prediction business. The system works in a simple way just like the league itself: three points for a win which is understood as a correct scoreline; one point for missing the scoreline but getting the outcome correct; then absolutely nothing for getting the whole shabungle wrong.
Bournemouth 2-2 Leicester City (0 points – actual score 1-0)
Everton 1-2 Arsenal (0 points – actual score 2-1)
Middlesbrough 1-2 Liverpool (1 point – actual score 0-3)
Sunderland 0-3 Chelsea (1 point – actual score 0-1)
West Ham 2-1 Burnley (1 point – actual score 1-0)
Crystal Palace 1-2 Man Utd (3 points)
Man City 3-1 Watford (1 point – actual score 2-0)
Stoke City 1-1 Southampton (1 point – actual score 0-0)
Tottenham 2-0 Hull City (1 point – actual score 3-0)
West Brom 2-0 Swansea (1 point – actual score 3-1)
Ten points in total. That’s very good and an improvement on recent weeks. But check this out in terms of percentage – 80%!!! 8 out of ten game outcomes were correctly predicted. That’s got to be an all time record on this prediction business. Yeah, it was great getting a correct scoreline in all that, but the sheer number of games with the correct outcomes was something I was particularly pleased with. That’s a good week’s work right there. The goal is to get more than 50% so to exceed that and get tantalisingly close to the full set was very good indeed, even if I do say so myself.
As the jolly season closes in and teams adjust to the rigours of the games coming in so quickly, will that affect predictions for the following set of fixtures? Will I be able to get equal or even better the performance of late? With that in mind, let’s consider this weekend’s fixtures.
Crystal Palace 0-2 Chelsea: Would it be harsh to sack Pardew this Christmas for failing to get enough points on the board over this run of games? I watch Palace play and see a side that does genuinely fight for each other and fight for the team. Yet for all their effort, they still come across as a side that is playing as less than the sum of its parts. How can a team like Palace be looking at Bournemouth and Watford above them? How does that work? Nevertheless that’s the position they are in. Noble though their defeat was to United in their last game, it was still a defeat and one that took place at home. Now they face Chelsea! Approaching this game as though they don’t have a chance won’t help them at all. It would be understandable for them to think that way though. Just consider their opponents. Ten wins in ten consecutive league games. Six points clear at the top of the table. They do not look like letting up. They can take on the defensive approach of Sunderland away from home without a key player and still emerge with the three points. Their system is working smoothly, they are not hassled by not scoring early. Players like Pedro and Fabregas who were initially considered out of favour can come into the team and make an impact. They are where they are because they deserve it and there’s little to suggest Palace can do much to change that. So would it be harsh to sack Pardew with that run of form?
Middlesbrough 2-1 Swansea: It’s a funny old game. Boro can’t be said to be having a bad season, as such. Yet here they are entering the game just three points ahead of their opponents who have been having a pretty torrid time in the league of late. Even if Swansea won, however, it wouldn’t put them above their opponents because of the degree of the goal difference and there is no way the Swans have it in them to be scoring a hatful of goals with little response. Having said that Boro don’t exactly have goals in them either. The onus is on Swansea though to get something from this match, preferably all three points. If things don’t go their way and they leave the Riverside with empty hands it will leave them with potentially a six point gap to safety. More disturbingly, it would leave them with another run of form that does not bode well for their chances of survival. There is something about the Welsh side, though, that gives the impression that they don’t have it in them to pull off an away win. They just don’t seem to be cohesive enough this season. Their team seems bereft of ideas when it matters most and that could prove to be their downfall. Karanka, however, cannot afford to take this game for granted. Their team has to be on it and they certainly have to raise their level of play from their last home outing where their defeat to Liverpool wasn’t too clever.
Stoke City 2-2 Leicester City: One minute they’re thrashing Manchester City the next minute they’re being humbled at Bournemouth. The Bournemouth result has been more reflective of the season the Premier League Champions. It makes it all the more of a fluke that they beat Man City the way they did. That result seems like a blip in a season of disappointing results and performances in the league. The questions remain: is this about players having a lacklustre reaction to winning the league? Is it the case that others have sussed out their style? Are the players complacent? Has the manager run out of ideas? Whatever the issue, Leicester city are now four points above the drop zone, they are not safe by any means. They need to get into the habit of winning games pretty quickly. Stoke City, in the meantime, are having some difficulty. They did well to get a draw against Southampton having played with ten men for a significant part of the game. That does not help them, however, having lost their previous match. They could do with a win just to get their season back on a more even keel. Yet their team have not been convincing as an attacking force. They need to get their stuff in order where scoring is concerned, but it’s difficult to see where that will happen. They could take advantage of their opponents being off form, but similarly they would have to raise their game to do that.
Sunderland 1-1 Watford: Hmmmmmm … Sunderland. Bottom of the table. Four points away from safety. Three losses in their last four games. That’s not good. Their saving grace is that they are around teams who are similarly scrapping with degrees of poor results. They face Watford and they are at home. They can win this game. In Defoe they have a striker who still knows where the goal is. David Moyes has Premier League pedigree, he knows how to get a team organised. He is not that bad a manager. Yet with stories coming out of the Stadium of Light that there won’t be that much in the way of funds to strengthen the squad in the January window, this is not a good time to be a Mackem. Watford, however, do not have a good record away from home. For whatever reason, their players tend to struggle. Sure they could see this game as a chance to get some points on the board and to win the game. They have a team cohesion that Sunderland would love to have. They have a manager who has hit the ground running where getting used to the league is concerned. This game, however, will be a fight. This will not be a game for the purists and can Watford scrap sufficiently to get those points on the board. It will be tough, that is for sure. In it all, there seems to be more likely a draw.
West Ham 2-1 Hull City: Hooray, West Ham not only win a game of football, they win a game of football at their home ground! Are they playing well? Nope. Are they anything like the team of last season? Nope. Are they going to get relegated? Nope. There are worse teams like them in this league this season. Their standards would really have to drop low for them to play in the Championship next season. They are now unbeaten in two games, they have the momentum of a win behind them. Beating Burnley was something and now they face a side who are worse than Burnley. That’s no disrespect to Hull. It’s just saying it as it is. Hull have a poor away record. Hull have a poor record full stop. West Ham won’t get relegated, but Hull should. That poor away record and facing a West Ham who want to make the most of going on the up will not work in their favour. What is worse for the away side is that in West Ham they face a side near them in the table and who they would look to nab a point or more from in order to give them some hope. The likelihood is, however, that the hope will continue to be extinguished after a game like this.
West Brom 1-2 Man Utd: This is among the harder matches to predict in this round of fixtures. What makes it this way is due to the form of both sides. West Brom at the Hawthorns are scoring goals for fun. Now that is still an odd phrase to say in relation to a side managed by Tony Pulis. It’s odd, but it’s true. Their recent three goal spree gives them a look at the table where they are looking up rather than down. Of course, the first team they’re looking up at will be their opponents. Chelsea have been the best team in the league at the moment, but there’s a very good argument to be made that the second best team on form has been United. Where Arsenal, Liverpool, City and Spurs have lost in recent games, United haven’t tasted defeat in the league since they faced Chelsea way back in October. That’s all of 8 league games unbeaten. Sure if they had turned some of those draws into wins they would be higher up the table, but there can be no doubt they are making good progress. West Brom will prove to be their toughest opponents to date. It will be a good test of their credentials if they can emerge from the game with three points. A point will be a hindrance in their bid for the top four finish. They go into this game looking for nothing less than a win – they are Man Utd and they must win. West Brom will have other ideas and they have not been well and truly beaten in a game for a long time. They can use this game to really test their own mettle and see if they can start to take seriously their ability to truly do well this season. If the United team play near their best, they can just about get the three points.
Bournemouth 1-1 Southampton: If Bournemouth carry on the way they are going they will finish the season safely in the league to fight again. They do not win every game and they do not lose every game. They will win and then they will lose. They are getting used to picking up the points when it matters and especially at home they are proving difficult to face. Liverpool, Leicester, Everton and West Brom have all lost at the Vitality Stadium this season in the league, that’s a promising record for the side. Yet this is as good as it gets to a local derby for Bournemouth. It’s hardly the Glasgow derby in terms of intensity and hostility of rivalry, but it is still a derby and anything can happen in a local derby. Southampton, are the epitome of a middling team. Their last result against a middling team was a draw. There is little about them to suggest they are going to anything that drastically different against another middling team. That is not to suggest this will be an easy contest at all for either side. They are both wary of the threats that can be posed by their opponents, they are certainly aware of the expectations their fans have for such an occasion. It is an accumulation of all this that tends towards the thought that the game will end in a draw. The home side will certainly think they can do better than a point, but they will have to be at their best to remain focused and not let the occasion get to them.
Man City 2-2 Arsenal: These are arguably two of the best footballing teams in the Premier League. Footballing in that sense of passing the ball around, keeping possession and having the capacity to pass with intent and use speed to penetrate the other side. Footballing in the sense of being consistent in winning games and looking like genuine title contenders has eluded both sides in recent games. City more than Arsenal. The Citizens certainly recovered well from the shock defeat to Leicester, but they are still seven points behind the league leaders. It’s not an unassailable lead, but it is a significant gap. A gap they need to start into pretty quickly. The Gunners lost for the first time in the league since the opening day of the season, so that is a fairly decent record to be getting on with. They too, however, have seen potentially topping the table to now being six points behind. They certainly did not want to be facing City so soon having lost to Everton, though some positive fans have looked at this as another opportunity to make a statement of intent in the Premier League. Indeed Arsenal can do that. They have beaten City before at the Etihad. There is a vulnerability about City that they could exploit with all the pressure that Guardiola is coming under for the lack of quality defending being displayed by his side. This has the makings to be one of the games of the season even if City are missing Aguerro. It will be interesting to particularly see how Arsenal approach this game, if they go for solidity in midfield and look to run the show from there, it could pay dividends for them. Though both sides know a draw would not be helpful in their pursuit of the title, it might have to be what they settle with.
Tottenham 3-1 Burnley: The fixture list has been kind to Spurs where their recent home games are concerned. Swansea, then Hull and now Burnley. Three teams to varying degrees struggling in the table this season. Three teams that do not have good away records and three teams who even for all that would be considered inferior to this Spurs side. Spurs dispatched Swansea without much hassle. They put down Hull without really breaking that much of a sweat. Burnley will provide something a little different for the home side. They will offer a lot more in the way of tenacity and grit. They will offer a harder working team ethic. They will offer a determination evident from the manager throughout. Pochettino will be very much aware of all of that. He will be aware of it and he will look at the players at his disposal and know that if they play at their potential, if they follow the instructions they have been given then they will pick up another three precious points. Those points will be precious indeed if the teams about them fail to collect three points themselves. The job at hand, however, is for them to deal with Burnley first. They haven’t played at their peak as yet this season, but it will be a good way to start things the right way to put down a marker for their intentions to deal with business properly.
Everton 2-3 Liverpool: The Merseyside derby. Other than the North London derby, it is the enduring derby of the top league. Everton come into this game on the back of a morale-boosting victory against Arsenal. The way the crowd and the team rose to the occasion was something that will give tremendous confidence to the Toffees. They have not been beaten at home. In Lukaku they have one of the strikers who is sharper in front of goals than most. They will not be intimidated going into this game, especially if the team begin to believe in what Koeman is telling them. This game means a lot to the fans, it means a lot for pride and in terms of finishing higher up the table than they have in previous seasons. They can beat this Liverpool side, who for all the goals scored, still have to take their defensive responsibilities to a higher level than they currently inhabit. However, like Lukaku they have a striker in form. Origi has scored five goals in five games and that will stand him in good stead going into this match. As a derby game, this is not going to be one for tippy-tappy football. This should be about guts and passion and the team willing to channel that for the better will be the team that should win the game. Everton face their hardest home match to date in seeing their local rivals. If they can match the degree of intensity they displayed in the second half against Arsenal they should be confident. If Liverpool, however, can take the initiative and keep it, the Reds might be crowing come the final whistle.
A fascinating set of fixtures before a week without football. It will be a set of games to savour and if Chelsea win, it could be one that sees them safe in the knowledge that they will start 2017 in top spot – which will be ominous for their rivals. All of that is yet to be played out, and so …
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden
The fixture list in its wisdom has said we can have three league matches in the space of eight days!! Truly they love those who love football. Which means that on week 16 of the campaign I get two sets of predictions to make.
Before I get stuck in with the first set, there is time ot review how I did witht he set of games that has taken place this weekend. Points scoring is straightforward – I lap up three points if I get the correct scoreline; I meekly collect one point for getting the right outcome alone and for getting neither correct I get the sum total of zilch.
Watford 1-1 Everton (0 points – actual score 2-1)
Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City (3 points)
Burnley 2-1 Bournemouth (1 point – actual score 3-2)
Hull 1-2 Crystal Palace (0 points – actual score 3-3)
Swansea City 1-2 Sunderland (0 points – actual score 3-0)
Leicester City 1-3 Man City (0 points – actual score 4-2)
Chelsea 3-0 West Brom (1 point – actual score 1-0)
Man Utd 2-1 Tottenham (1 point – actual score 1-0)
Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough (0 points – actual score 1-0)
Liverpool 4-1 West Ham (0 points – actual score 2-2)
Last time out I only collected five points, but that was at least from five correct outcomes. This time around, however, I’ve collected only slightly more points with the six total, but that has come from a disappointing 40% correct outcome rating. Sure I’m delighted to get a scoreline spot on, but it would have been sweeter to get more correct outcomes. Some outcomes in that round of games were simply ridiculous – like when did Leicester find their scoring boots?
Nevertheless that’s the way the game goes and as we approach the first part of the two parter in week 16 of the Premier League, it’s with a touch more caution that I slap on these predictions.
Bournemouth 2-2 Leicester City: I defy anyone to tell me they say Leicester thrashing Man City. I defy them. There was nothing in how Leicester have played to give any indication they had performance in them. There you go, though. Ranieiri can happily look at that statement to say his team are more than capable of playing as well as they did last season. It will be of great interest however to see if they can maintain that in a game that comes so soon afterwards. Meanwhile Bournemouth continue their bumpy and inconsistent approach to this season. They don’t look quite poor enough yet to be troubled about relegation, but they cannot afford to live on highs of comebacks against Liverpool and then lose the next game. As ever the key is consistency and they will be looking to home comforts to provide them the environment to resume the winning thing. Will they have enough, however to take on the Premier League Champions who now have their tails up and are looking to keep that going? Thankfully for the home side, the Foxes will not find it that straightforward to replicate the scintillating form that saw them three goals up within twenty minutes. Likewise Eddie Howe will be insistent that his side don’t go about their business with a slow start on thsi occasion. If the home side can rouse themselves they can look to nab the win, but I see this game ending in a stalemate.
Everton 1-2 Arsenal: The league table is not looking so pretty for the Toffees. There is a reason for that, seen most clearly in the fact they have not won in their last five games. Their fans are starting to grumble in that kind of run and do not see much in the way of signs of improvement. It is not all completely dismal for them because at least Lukaku still knows how to score every now and then. Scoring now and then, however, is not that helpful when you’re tending to concede more often and fail to do enough to do that thing of winning games of football. Some are dreading seeing another season of mid-table mediocrity and there is already criticism of the new guy for not doing something different to address the performances and results. It is not the best time to face Arsenal with all that going on. Pessimists at Arsenal are finding it harder to grumble and complain – that’s not to say everything is rosy, after all it’s only December. Yet as they look at the table they see themselves comfortably established in second place and the most likely to challenge Chelsea for top spot. They did beat Stoke and were not particularly bullied by them at all. They won’t go to Goodison Park taking it for granted that they can collect the three points just by turning up. Koeman is savvy enough to send out a side that can combat the attacking threat Arsenal pose. Plus with so many games being played in succession the question of squad rotation in team selection comes to the fore. Will Wenger or Koeman risk putting out their strongest sides in this match knowing that another one looms in the not too distant future. As it looks at the moment, though, it is looking more likely that Arsenal will emerge from this trip to the North with the win.
Middlesbrough 1-2 Liverpool: It is not that long ago that Liverpool were top of the table looking down on all the other teams and obviously they suffered from vertigo. Since that brief moment at the top they have stuttered and faltered. Eager beavers blame the defence and especially the goalkeeper. Others point to apparently missing the impact of players like Sturridge and particularly Coutinho. Whatever it is, critics are sharpening their knives to suggest their whole title contending thing was too premature and Klopp’s failure to address the defence is obstinate to the point of blindness. They won’t find much in the way of sympathy from this fixture. Karanka will not write this game off as one they cannot do well in. They will not fear the attacking threat of Liverpool, because they may see a way of combating that whilst doing the damage at the other end of the pitch. Boro are not that prolific at that end of the pitch, but in the knowledge that the apparent frailties of their opponents may present them with opportunities, they may very well hope for the best. Klopp’s selection for this game will be very telling with the Merseyside derby being just around the corner. There is no sign of him adjusting his methods and his belief in his teams to score goals. His commitment to his principles is somewhat being tested in this brief phase of games that should have seen more points collected, it his commitment to the team ethos, however, that will be decisive in the outcome of this fixture. If they turn up and look to be clinical in front of goal they could get a much needed three goals. Boro, however, will be looking to captialise on any weakness.
Sunderland 0-3 Chelsea: Sunderland were doing so well. Two wins in a row, goals being scored, confidence building and Moyes must have thought he was onto something. To leave Wales with nothing but the weird feeling of actually being beaten by a team that has been worse than them will be deflating to say the least. They then follow that up with a little issue of facing the league leaders who don’t concede often and have not tasted anything other than victories in nearly ten league fixtures. Indeed if they collect the three points on this occasion that magical number ten will emerge. Conte isn’t bothered about records, that’s clear. He’s got his head screwed on properly when it comes to expectations. He will see this game as one similar t what they have endured with the game against West Brom. He will fully expect a ten man defence with maximum effort put in to stop the machine from churning. He will drill it into his players to remain disciplined and focused on the game at hand. Not get hung up with missed chances or stifling defences. He will know that if they keep probing then their breakthrough will come through as it did in their last game. The challenge, then, is for Sunderland to figure out how to competently keep quiet the more forceful elements of the irrepressible visitors from the capital city. If they are looking for anything in their past to help, Sunderland will be plum out of material. That won’t stop Moyes hoping that his efforts will get his lads putting in the intensity required to get in among the leaders and challenge for whatever they can get out of the game. It just looks like what that will amount to is that nebulous quality of ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’.
West Ham 2-1 Burnley: Go ahead and laugh. Go on. There it is, I believe West Ham will win a game of football at their home ground. That’s something worth laughing about because there is little to suggest that will be the case. They have had seven games at home winning two. That means Hammers spend most of their time at home watching their team extend Christmas cheer in giving away points like there’s no tomorrow. At the moment they could very much do with that thing called a win. It seems like such an oddity in the Hammer circles that they may be surprised to note that I believe they will make that happen in this match. Is that a slur on their opponents? Not at all. Dyche is very good at his job. Burnley are not by any means dead and buried in this league. They can fight and tussle with the best of them. It’s just that their ability to do that away from home seems to be lacking. It’s lacking at a time when they could do with it, because there seems to be no better place to be playing football away from hom than against West Ham. The draw at Anfield, though, would have sent Bilic back to the East of London in better spirits. It is now a matter of if Bilic can turn that into at least getting thorugh 90+ minutes and emerging with a miraculous and rare three points.
Crystal Palace 1-2 Man Utd: At last. At last Manchester United turn domination and chances into three points. In fact since late September, United have only lost once in the league. That’s a decent record. Of course it would be a much better record if a lot of those league matches drawn were actually the wins that they should have been. Yet here they are, still outside the top five ands still lagging behind other teams who have done the thing of winning games of football. Beating Spurs is a good result, though and they can take that into this fixture. A fixture in which they will be the favourites by some margin. The reason for that is their opponents. Pardew must have hoped he turned a corner with that win against Southampton, but to follow that up with a draw at Hull – a draw they just about scraped – was not the sort of performance and result that would have helped them. It certainly would not prepare them for this tricky home game. That will not deter the optimism of Pardew. He will want to send his home fans away happy that his team have given this game a go. He won’t be too concerned about them scoring goals, that bit they have down well. They will be a lot more concerned about their inability to stop conceding goals. Not that United are scoring them by the ton at the moment and the injury to Mkhitaryan could not have come at a more inconvenient time with the run of games coming. Mourinho won’t be too downhearted, though, because United were creating chances withouthim in the side and their renewed confidence and theoptions they have in attack and midfield should give them reason to believe they can see their way to collecting the three points.
Man City 3-1 Watford: Errrrrr … so … Man City …. what’s going on there then? You expect every new manager to have a sticky patch as they get used to the way things work around here. But for Manchester City to lose two in a row is just … not going according to the plan. It’s one thing to remember when Liverpool were top, but it’s another thing to remember that this is the City who set a blistering pace in the league winning games in a row. Now they are in fourth place seven points behind top spot. That is simply not good enough. Sure it’s one thing to point out City’s defensive record of late, although laying the blame at the door of the new goalkeeper misses something bigger going on at the Etihad and that is the necessary changing of the guard where the defence is concerned. Whatever the transitional issues going on, the squad should not be lagging this far behind top spot. They can begin to make amends for that with this home match. Other than the defeat to Chelsea, City have been able to put in the performances at home to justify their status as title favourites. They will need such a performance to get themselves back on track. In Watford they face a team who themselves are not really doing much to prove they could be a pain to City. Watford are doing well for themselves in the better half of the table, but away from home they rarely cause that much in the way of an upset. It would be something as well to see if the Hornets could put in the kind of effort that would not be overawed by the attacking options that City can display even as they continue to have to deal with Aguerro’s suspension.
Stoke City 1-1 Southampton: Topsy-turvy, patchy, ups and downs and round and round. Here is a clash of two teams who typify that as well as any mediocre team in the Premeir League. They both know they shouldn’t be messing around with relegation. They both have aspirations higher than where they are. They have tasted of European football and would like to taste it some more. Their form so far this season, however, does not suggest they are going in the right direction to realise their aspirations. They are slap bang in the middle of the table and are separated by a place and a point. Their run of recent games has seen two wins, , two losses and a draw. Stoke want to recover from that defeat at the Emirates and Southampton want to have the rare experience of winning two games in a row. This has got a draw written all over it.
Tottenham 2-0 Hull City: Spurs are sort of drifting at the moment. At one point some wondered if they were title contenders and then they drew to Arsenal, lost to Chelsea and now lost to Man Utd. That should answer that question. The next question for Spurs to answer at the moment is whether they have the wherewithal to sustain a challenge for the top four. United’s win sees them only three points behind Spurs. So this is the kind of game that spurs need to win to both maintain their quest for a top four finish and keep some distance from the Red Devils. They will be grateful to welcome Hull to White Hart Lane. Hull come having drawn a match against Crystal Palace that they may feel they should have done better in, but they now travel away from their home for their eighth away match looking to buck a particularly telling trend. That trend being that of the seven previous games away they have only got points from two of those matches. There is little to suggest they are going to do that much better at a Spurs team keen to prove again that they are worthy of the acclaim they received. Swansea were dispatched with comfortably at White Hart Lane in the last home match and there’s no reason why Hull won’t face a similar fate.
West Brom 2-0 Swansea: So the Swans did very well in comprehensively beating fellow relegation strugglers Sunderland. Goals scored, clean sheet kept, three points collected and a way out of the top three in sight. A win is a platform of belief for the game to come. Bradley will be taking that onto the next game seeing them visit the Hawthorns. The mood at West Brom has been fairly upbeat. They have been doing well in games and scoring goals and collecting points in a far more prolific manner than their opponents. They are having overall a decent season. Losing to Chelsea is no shame and limiting them to the one goal shows that they have that discipline to keep their goals conceded column as low as possible. They can return from that battle and face this Swansea side with a degree of confidence and optimism that they can keep their good form going. If they do then that will bear them well for the future. The onus is actually on the Swans to raise their game again in battling to get as much from matches like this to help in their bid to climb above the relegation zone and believe they can actually survive. Not sure Pulis will be in the mood to help his fellows Welshmen out on this occasion.
With the possible exception of Everton taking on Arsenal, this round of fixtures doesn’t feature that much in the way of excitement with the teams meeting each other. Yet there is still enough for intrigue to take place for there are points to be won and title challenges to get back on track and relegation scrapes to battle. As for my predictions, I certainly feel a lot more confident of improving on the points total of recent weeks.
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden
The season continues without any sign of sagging and it’s getting real close to that hectic time of year with fixtures coming left, right and centre.
Before that begins, though, we review the games that took place in Week 14. The points system is straightforward – three points for getting the correct score, one point for just getting the right outcome and didley-squat for getting everything wrong.
Man City 1-2 Chelsea (1 point – actual score 1-3)
Crystal Palace 2-2 Southampton (0 points – actual score 3-0)
Stoke City 2-1 Burnley (1 point – actual score 2-1)
Sunderland 1-2 Leicester City (0 points – actual score 2-1)
Tottenham 3-1 Swansea City (1 point – actual score 5-0)
West Brom 1-1 Watford (0 points – actual score 3-1)
West Ham 1-2 Arsenal (1 point – actual score 1-5)
Bournemouth 2-3 Liverpool (0 points – actual score 4-3)
Everton 1-2 Man United (0 points – actual score 1-1)
Middlesbrough 2-0 Hull (1 point – actual score 1-0)
Yeesh. In terms of outcomes it was a straight 50% split. Half right and half wrong. Yet with the inability to gain any correct scorelines from the heady heights of double figures last week I plunge to a mere five points.
Wowsers what a week for results eh. Some teams are having a bad season and I mean really bad. Where one or two are doing better than expected at the moment. That should help influence how I consider this week’s set of fixtures. So let’s have a look at those games.
(Note: I am aware that there are games scheduled to be played midweek and a special set of midweek predictions will be posted on Monday.)
Watford 1-1 Everton: It’s interesting seeing which manager would feel more aggrieved at this stage of the season. Over a third of the games played, they are in a position to know very well the state of their squad and how well they will play. They may be eager for the transfer window to open in the next few weeks, but even then there’s no wholesale changes they can make to their squads. Everton in particular, though, will be a little bemused that they are still in a decent position in the league with the performances and results. Watford aren’t too far behind them as far as points are concerned. They are bothhaving mixed results, which makes this prediction a little easier. Watford might see themselves as slight favourites for this match only because of home advantage. They face an Everton side that has not kicked into gear as yet with consistent performances. Watford know they have it in them to produce a battling performance to claim the three points. Everton likewise have had one or two decent away performances that should give them some sense of hope that they can impose their superior quality over the Hertfordshire side. The way these two are playing thus far this season, I just see them cancelling each other out.
Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City: It wsa interesting coming across some previews for this match where supporters from both clubs are suggesting this is a different kind of encounter between these two clubs. Ever since Stoke got promoted to the Premier League they were high among those accused of bullying, harassing and physically intimidating the Gunners in their encounters. Now, however, Arsenal have a solidity in midfield that has been rarely seen for the last few seasons (by few some would say go back to Vieira which is ten years). Whether its Xhaka, Coquelin or Elneny there’s a midfield base that won’t be easily hassled off the ball. Add to that their usual sprinkle of creative ability through the likes of Ozil and the growing attacking threat of Sanchez and Arsenal fans are looking at this with a sense of optimism. Optimistic Arsenal fans used to be an oxymoron, but their position in the table and their proximity to the top and their last outing where they crushed West Ham without slipping into third gear is reason enough to see this as a match they should win. That looks like a writing off of Stoke City, doesn’t it? Do they have no chance? Well of course they have a chance. They haven’t gone completely soft, no Mark Hughes side has gone absolutely completely soft as long as he has his way. He knows how to mix it in these type of games and he has enough at his disposal to make the game awkward for the Emirates crowd. Yet looking at these two teams Stoke don’t appear to have enough to get enough from this match.
Burnley 2-1 Bournemouth: In 14 league matches Burnley have won four of them. That might appear a little shabby for some clubs, but for Burnley that’s a very good record indeed. It’s a record that currently sees them three points off the relegation zone. What’s also helpful about that record is that those four wins have all come at home. It’s useful seeing as though they face Bournmeouth at Turf Moor which should give them a confidence going into this game. They could definitely do with a win having lost their last three matches. That win will not come easily against a Bournemouth who are on a high following their impressive comeback to record their first win against Liverpool in the league. Their form away from the Vitality Stadium, however, has only seen them get one win. They will not see this game as one where they could easily pick up three points and will have to be at their best to ensure they don’t allow themselves to fall into a losing position because there’s no guarantee they can pull off the comeback again. Especially as Dyche looks to motivate his team to find the winning way again at home to enter the busy Christmas round of games with more reason to be optimistic of their chances of staying in this league.
Hull City 1-2 Crystal Palace: Previously, Pardew was being pilloried for posting pathetic performances. His job was on the line, apparently. Observers were wondering how on earth he was still in a job after a run of several matches with the same L being the outcome. Yet, they have now won a game. They have done it. Collected the full three points from a game. That has surely broken the back on the run. Pardew, however, will know that he is not out of the woods, yet. In Hull he faces an opportunity to ease the pressure on himself further. It seems like so long ago that Hull made an impressive start to their league season despite several setbacks. They are second from bottom for a reason. They are living up to the expectations of them to be struggling at the wrong end of the table. Yet if they look at the points situation it’s not a done deal that they are going down. If they rouse a battling performance in a game like this, for example, then they will be level on points with their opponents – that will at least make the melee at the bottom all the more intriguing. There is something endearing about the way the embattled club still go about their business on the pitch. Phelan is at least looking to put out a team of players who work together and put in an honest shift. That will allow to nab points off any clubs who bob along being complacent. Crystal Palace, however, will have no reason to be complacent, which should make the difference in this match.
Swansea City 1-2 Sunderland: Errrrrr … what’s happened to Sunderland? They used to be a comfortable punchline, but of late they have actually been getting … yes I can’t believe it either … they have been getting wins. Three out of their last four matches. That’s not a bad run of form at all. It’s a decent run that should be the platform for them to take their survival chances seriously. They could do it. They could stay up. It is now more a possibility than its ever been before. Beating the Premier League champions would have contributed to their rising confidence – although to be fair, there’s more an issue of who can’t beat the Premier League champions at the moment. Nevertheless David Moyes is hardly going to return those three points. Meanwhile Bob Bradley could well do with those three points. He could do with a colection of three points from quite a number of upcoming fixtures. As they stare up at nineteen teams above them, they know they have a lot of work to do to retain their Premier League status. As their chairman comes out this week to admit that their current plight is his responsbility that’s hardly a note of encouragement for the Welsh team as they engage in the battle. It’s not the time to be taking responsibility in that way. It’s time to be about the business of getting solutions to the situation they find themselves in. Yet there is very little to suggest at the moment that they have solutions. That won’t be something Moyes is too bothered about if his team can continue to prove in returning to the North-East with three points.
Leicester City 1-3 Man City: Neither of these City sides are happy at the moment. There’s something about Manchester City’s season thus far that does not give the impression they have really got to the stage they desire. The Christmas period, however, is an important one if they are to realise their ambitions. Four points off the top is not unassailable by any stretch of the imagination, but they certainly need to be kicking into gear soon. The defeat to Chelsea last week was particularly galling for a number of reasons. It’s their time, however, to show they can bounce back from it with a win. In Leicester City, they could hardly have picked better opponents to comeback. Even Swansea have won a game in their last five. In fact only West Ham are in a similar spate of poor form. Leticester, however, are the Premier League Champions – not sure if that’s been mentioned before. They can afford a little challenge on their follow-up season, but their form of late has been alarming even for a team that were previously seen as a yo-yo club. You must know that they are in trouble when they lose to Sunderland. That’s a good indicator that things must change. Ranieiri seems to have got that memo in the team selection he made for their final Champions League group match this week. He is definitely saving his best team for this encounter and perhaps for the run of games ahead. There is a justifiable question, however, that if this team has not been doing the business before in the league, what gives anyone the impression that they will begin to pick up their game against a side who may not have Aguerro, but still have menace and threat throughout the side?
Chelsea 3-0 West Brom: People are questioning Tony Pulis. They are questioning if it is really him that is leading this West Brom side. This is a team that is … scoring goals. This is a team that is … winning games. This is a team that is … playing decent football. Effective though Pulis has been in his football career these are not the most obvious trademarks of his approach to the game. Yet here they sit pretty in seventh place and after fourteen games they know they are not there by accident. It bodes well for the team from the Midlands. That, however, now comes across the seemingly relentless machine thatis the current table-toppers. Conte’s side didn’t look that perturbed by Man City when they beat them at the Etihad. Another day, another win for Chelsea. The side don’t know how to drop points at the moment and the Stamford Bridge brigade are understandably chipper at their progress. In fact, if you whisper it quietly, their current position would not be that much ruffled if they were to drop a couple of points in this game. What a comfortable position they are in. Do not think for a minute, though, that Conte is in anyway taking this for granted. He succeeded at Juventus because he didn’t get lax. He knows enough about West Brom to know that to take them lightly would be a big mistake. He knows enough about how Pulis sets his team up in big games to know that the onus will be on him to make the most of their dominant possession to actually score the goals that can put this game to bed. It’s just as well that in Costa they have a player ravenous for goals and in Hazard hey have a player who is in imperious form. That and the ongoing resurrection of the reputation of Moses and establishment of respect for Luiz and it’s a reason why I can just about see a home win.
Man United 2-1 Tottenham: When I write predictions for these games, I allow myself a little leeway for the scores. Maybe in one miraculous week all ten of my predictions will be correct. It’s not impossible. Highly unlikely, but not impossible. Of all the predictions this week that should have the raised eyebrows, this one should have the biggest raised eyebrows. Observers will tell me to look at the facts – Spurs have only lost once in the league this season. Spurs have one of the best defences in the league. In Harry Kane, Spurs have a menace of a striker who can boss any defence he comes across. Spurs have a team ethic and a team press that, like City did when they visited Old Trafford, can rub United the wrong way and cause them considerable grief. Also, as some have detected, United are good in the cup competitions, but they don’t appear to believe in winning games in the Premier League. Sure they play well, they create chances, they can even score a goal. All of that can happen and they can leave the match without the full points. They have played City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea so far and not got a win in any of those games. You look at all of that and if you were a Spurs fan you would definitiely be at least mindful that you could leave Manchester with something from this match. Meanwhile as a United fan you’ll be a little frustrated to see a good first eleven selected in the Europa League match before the clash on Sunday. It will make you a little puzzled and concerned to see if the team can live up to the exertions that Pochettino’s side will definitely put on the home side on Sunday. Considering all of those things the last thing you would confidently suggest is a home win. So I am confidently suggesting a home win.
Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough: I seriously doubt that this will be the game of the weekend. Karanka will be grateful for the win on Monday. Now he faces a team that is only two points away. The Saints overall have a better squad, but that won’t stop Karanka from believing that he can approach this game and get something out of it. Indeed in the previous seven away matches Middlesbrough have ensured they got something out of the match on six of those occasions. Meanwhile the Saints are not in a good runof form at the moment. One win in five games is not a good stat to look at, then to compound that they managed to get knocked out of the Europa League. This is a good test of Puel’s credentials, can he get this team to play to their peak again and register some more positive results. The uncertainty over the future of Fonte is not helping them either. Their home record is not too shabby, though having only lost one of their seven games there this season so far. This will not be a goal fest primarily because neither side boast particularly prolific sides. That record about Middlesbrough on the road is impressive in terms of getting something from their travels. What’s also indicative about how this match might end up is that of those six times when they got something from the game, five of those games were draws.
Liverpool 4-1 West Ham: Slaven Bilic has had some very serious things to say about the state of his team following their trouncing at the hands of Arsenal. There is a lot going on at the club and not all of it good at all. This is a challenge for Bilic to rouse his troops. There is a lot at stake for the Hammers. They are only grateful that their fall off from last season is worsened by the fall off at Leicester City. That consolation won’t mean much if they get relegated and they are smelling like genuine relegation candidates with each failure to win. Not the best time to be visiting Anfield. Liverpool are smarting from the defeat at Bournemouth especially the manner of that loss. Home has been a fortress for Liverpool where they have only failed to win once in their six games. They will want to swiftly recover from their setback with three points. Klopp will not be taking this game for granted at all. He knows that Bilic is still a sound coach and West Ham will be looking to have some good news to bring back to London. On paper it doesn’t look to good for the visitors, but this is Premier League football and the Hammers have it in them to make the point that they are not finished just yet.
It’s another fascinating week of football action. I am hopeful that the points will definitely go up this week after last time out. As ever though …
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden
Focus of news this week has been on the sad emergence of abuse among footballers in their youth. This puts a distinctly unsavoury light on the way of the world of football where even there things can be perpetuated with little to nothing in the way of recrimination because of the system. Sure, the FA can talk about steps that have been made in recent years to challenge the culture and ensure safeguarding is a high priority, yet there is a gloom that’s cast on the sport in the light of those revelations.
Here’s hoping, however, that the greater aspect of the sport will shine through this particular disturbing phase. Never disregarding the real hurt and pain that takes place, let’s hope the game itself can assert itself as a sport of competition and enjoymentabove any darker elements.
As for me, it’s once more time to look at how I did in week 13 of the Premier League fixtures. The scoring system sees three points for hitting the bullseye of a correct scoreline. There’s one point if I miss the bullseye but it the board in getting the correct outcome. There’s absolutely nothing but shame and sadness if the prediction misses everything completely and nearly hits that picture of your Mum above the board.
Burnley 1-3 Man City (1 point – actual score 1-2)
Hull City 1-2 West Brom (0 points – actual score 1-1)
Leicester 1-1 Middlesbrough (1 point – actual score 2-2)
Liverpool 4-1 Sunderland (1 point – actual score 2-0)
Swansea 2-1 Crystal Palace (1 point – actual score 5-4)
Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham (3 points)
Watford 2-1 Stoke City (0 points – actual score 0-1)
Arsenal 3-1 Bournemouth (3 points)
Man Utd 3-1 West Ham (0 points – actual score 1-1)
Southampton 1-1 Everton (0 points – actual score 1-0)
Another fairly mixed bag of results this week, but I’m particularly pleased that I got a 60% correct outcome scoreline this week. That’s over the average and that’s good. Points collection wise, it’s beautiful to get two correct scorelines which means that I hit the double figures with 10 points. that’s fairly pleasing this week and a good basis on which to consider what happens from here.
It’s weekk 14 now and to a degree last week’s results won’t be a great help to indicate how things may emerge. Yet looking at the league table and seeing a clear gap marking out the top six from the rest, that is a good help in checking how things might turn out this week. On that score here are the predictions for this week’s fixtures.
Man City 1-2 Chelsea: This is undoubtedly the game of the season. The league table informs you that this is third place taking on those currently leading in the league. I’m sure Liverpool fans won’t think it’s unfair to say, though, that these two are the legitimate favourites for the title, because unlike the Reds, these two have a recent history of winningthe competition. This is a tasty fixture pitting the two best clubs in the leagues against each other. Conte keeps on rolloing out the wins. Their comeback win against Spurs last week showed their capacity to win without playing well against a team that are credible challengers. To get that win will be hugely encouraging to those from Stamford Bridge, it’s a good basis in which to enter this game. What works in their favour as well is that the onus is not on them to go out and dominate possession to win. Guardiola’s City are not the finished article as yet – despite the investment in the squad, settling process at the Etihad is definitely very different for City. They have picked up some vital wins of late that have shown they have the mettle to get these results against teams they should be beating without ever going into top gear. The best is definitely yet to come from City as they work through their new regime. It’s a fair argument to say that in Chelsea they face their toughest oppnents to date. Defeating them will not be easy at all as all over the pitch the Blues from the capital seem to have sufficient quality to pose a threat to the opponents whilst having the wherewithal to take on the barrage that City might throw at them. It’s because of that largely that I see this game ending in something other than a draw.
Crystal Palace 2-2 Southampton: There are certain people you don’t want to be at the moment and Alan Pardew is one of them. Being on a losing streak is one thing, continuing that losing streak is a worse thing and the manner in which that streak was maintained isthe worst of them all. Add to that the small issue of getting beat by the team that had previously been a strong contender for worst team in the Premier League. That title now, however, looks to be leaving Wales to find its new home at Selhurst Park. Nope, you don’t want to be Alan Pardew at this time as some journalists are counting down the days before he finally becomes a recipient of a P45. What makes matters worse for him is the collection of players at his disposal look to be playing less than the sum of their parts. You look at the squad and you’re not surprised that they score four goals last weekend. But conceding five? That’s just not what this squad look capable of and making that all the worse is that they now face Southampton who are feeling good in the light of two wins.What goes in their favour as well is that their recent win – with eight players changed from the previous match – they were in the capital city beating of all teams, Arsenal. There will be something in the heads of some in the Saints’ dressing room that says if they can beat the Gunners away from home then Crystal Palace should be a walkover. I can certainly see how that thought would be rumbling among other things. Puel has the Saints playing a brand of football that, importantly, is hard to break down. These factors considered, it would be easy to go for an away win that plunges the reign of Pardew ever close to its end. It might end up that way, but there’s something in me that thinks Pardew will may get a slither of hope. How long that slither will last is another thing, but against the odds, on this match I reckon can leave with a point.
Stoke City 2-1 Burnley: A bit like this predictions business, Stoke are suffering from inconsistency. Good result one week, bad result the next. Good performance one week, poor performance the next. Stoke don’t look as threatened by relegation as they did a month or so ago. They need to be kicking it up a level, though, if they want to make good their desire to hit the top half and stay there. Thankfully for them they come across a Burnley who are very obstinate at home, but do not have the greatest away record. In fact if their away record was merely mediocre it would be an improvement they would accept. This is not a side to be taken lightly, though and Stoke City have hardly been all conquering at home. If City decide to have an off day then there might be enough in the engine for Burnley to come away with three points. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility. That’s not where this prediction is going, though. This prediction is about looking at the two teams and noticing that in as much as the away side has a tenacity and determination that is seeing them doing marginally better than they were last time in the Premier League, they are still not quite at that level to be assured in surviving a relegation battle. Meanwhile Stoke don’t look that poor enough to get embroiled in that relegation struggle. That reality has to see the home side take matters into their own hands and do what’s necessary to see the Potters come out of the contest with all the points and a platform for positivity.
Sunderland 1-2 Leicester City: Apparently the Leicester fans have resorted to booing their side. That is so bizarre. They must know why they are booing their side. Maybe they’re not happy with the quality of performance they are seeing. Yet to boo the side that miraculously won them the Premier League just seems so odd. Things surely aren’t that bad. Yet this must be what happens when you spoil your own with a trophy of that magnitude. Good thing for Leicester, then that this game sees them play away from home. Some respite from the spoiled lot. What a splendid place to go away from home too. Sunderland got exactly what they deserved at Anfield whatever comments their manager might state to suggest otherwise. The Black Cats came to stop a massacre and so received just a quick beating which merits them nothing. They will be heartened, however, to see they are playing hosts to a team out of sorts in terms of Premier League form. That makes predicting the result of this match very difficult indeed. The factor that swings it towards the away side on this occasion is the quality that Leicester have at their disposal. Yeah, they have their final group game in the Champions League coming up, but that’s not as much a priority at the moment. This match is crucial for them. They do need to get another three points on the board just for their sense of safety. They do have enough to get the predicted win, but that does not rule out at all the likelihood of the home side turning up and actually taking the game by the scruff of the neck and not letting go until the final whistle.
Tottenham 3-1 Swansea City: Bob Bradley is not a fool. The win last weekend was necessary and welcomed. The character to get that win having given up a lead was remarkable and roomto be very optimistic. It is, however, just one win. Just three points. Those three points will matter little if they go for another spell without winning. That might prove to be difficult when they consider this match. Spurs are still hurting after a disappointing run of form that saw them knocked out of the Champions League and meekly surrender a lead to Chelsea. Pochettino is not exhibiting anything that suggests he is feeling under pressure, but something must be done about the form of late. If they can maintain the quality of play in that first half against Chelsea they will scare a lot of teams. If they can reproduce the style that put Man City on its derriere then they can reignite hopes among the White Hart faithful that winning the title is something truly worth aspiring to. They won’t take their opponents lightly, Spurs are one of those sides that are well drilled on the press and have a team ethic that would scorn pride and arrogance in any form. If they are about that kind of thinking when they face Swansea, the Welsh side could be in for a torrid time.
West Brom 1-1 Watford: Watford Head Coach, Mazzari, was not pleased after their home defeat to Stoke City in their last outing. Not just losing but the manner of the loss irked the boss. He was not having it and there’s something about the approach to the game in the Premier League that gives the strong impression that he will be expecting his side to do a lot better at the Hawthorns. It must be satisfying for Watford fans to know this is the level of expectation when they go on the pitch. That demand should drive them on to once more do enough to finish the season as a Premier League outfit. Tony Pulis has not had a good week for personal financial reasons. He will not let that affect him, though, as he applies himself to the taskat hand. The draw away at Hull was much more like the West Bromwe expect after that blip four goal display against Burnley. I don’t expect them to score four against Watford. They have enough among their squad to make this home match something for which their fans can be somewhat hopeful of getting all three points. The hesitation remains around the fact that this is a Tony Pulis side, one that typically just plays hard to beat and hope for the best at the other end of the pitch.
West Ham 1-2 Arsenal: The vibes around West Ham do not appear all that good. They did well to draw with Man Utd in the league in that fixture, but then went on to lose comprehensively to the same side in the EFL Cup. Results and performances like that can have a negative effect and the Hammers could definitely do with avoiding negative effects. It’s not the best time to be playing Arsenal either who were also dumped out of the Cup. The Gunners will delight in knowing two of their closest rivals face each other which indicates they could have an opening to make their way up the table and sniffing the top spot. To do that, however, they have to get this game right. The disappointment of the ease with which they were knocked out will provide them with a test to see if they can really let that frustration out on the next opponent. Nothing can be put down to fatigue as key players were rested. They have an opportunity to put a marker on their season having escaped November without losing in the league. They face a side who is not at all that comfortable in their new home, but this is a London derby and if Bilic can motivate the side and look to be solid they can do something against the Gunners. The thinking is, though, that the away should have too much for them on this occasion.
Bournemouth 2-3 Liverpool: Along with Arsenal, Liverpool will be looking forward to the fact that the two teams immediately around them face each other with dropped points on any side being a positive for them to either gain on the top or draw away from the one behind. They just have to beat Bournemouth to do that. That is all they have to do. That is not as easy as it is written, though. Eddie Howe has built a side who not only play ‘attractive’ football, this team can make things awkward for the bigger teams. They have it in them to get a result from this match and they certainly won’t allow the tag of underdog to be anything to them. They will not be intimidated by Liverpool. They have seen the weaknesses the Reds have. They can sense a susceptible side to the team they face and they can take heart from the example Burnley have shown in taking chances, stifling the Reds and comingup trumps. What makes their task all the easier is seeing their opponents with a star player missing. Coutinho’s loss to Liverpool has got some tongues wagging as to whether this will be the start of seeing the wheels fall off the league challenge. Will they suffer from the lack of creative options in the final third? Where will that spark and magic come from and without that can they still get results? Bournemouth might scent a hint of something they can do to really upset the current title challengers. That does not, however, negate the fact that it is the away side who go into this match as favourites because they have the quality to pull off a win. No doubt, however, it will not be easy.
Everton 1-2 Man United: Both of these teams cannot say they are having their desired season. United’s travails are well documented. Of course small things like performances mean little for a club of the size and expectation of United. All that matters is their presence among the title contenders and they are conspicuous by their absence from the title scene. There are some fans who are bothered that they appear to put it in for cup competitions but aren’t doing much in the league. The pressure remains on Mourinho to make the team selections that gives fans the impression they can go and win the game in the league. While the pressure is on him, his counterpart at Goodison Park is not having an easy time of it. It’s hardly the honeymoon season for Koeman. There is a degree of patience that they can offer, but when the performances and results are not obviously improving then it is little wonder that Evertonians are a little nervous at the moment. Having won only one game in the last eight and with November being a month not to remember the situation for the Toffees is very simple – they need a win. Can they beat United? Of course they can – of course it’s possible. Yet United have played better than Everton overall. United have a much better team than Everton. There’s a good argument to suggest United have a better manager as well. All of those factors point to a tough time for the home team. For that to be realised, though, United must be careful to be a lot more clinical. If they can perform have they have been over the last six weeks and turn their chances into goals Everton will not have a prayer.
Middlesbrough 2-0 Hull: This is a Championship game. Come on. Let’s be real here. Hull are a Premier League club in name only. Middlesbrough have just come up and so have to play whatever they can to succeed in just staying up. The natural habitat for both sides is in the league below. That’s not being harsh and judgemental, that is simply saying it as I see it. Nevertheless these are teams playing in the Premier League in the hope of gaining enough points to stay in that privileged position. Of the two there’s little between them quality wise. No players roll off the tongue in terms of outstanding, mouthwatering quality. The managers are similarly nondescript. Hull, however, have been marginally worse than Boro this season. It will be an enormous achievement for this collection of players to avoid relegation. That will not start in this game. They will turn up and be as competitive as they can. If they keep their shape and not lose heart through the game, there’s every reason to believe they can quiet the home crowd, work their way into the match and look to get something.from this game. Karanka, however, will be keen to make the most of the home advantage and he is the slightly better manager in a slightly better team that can hope to get a result that leaves them in a slightly better position than their opponents.
There are one or two matches to give a miss this weekend. There are a couple of crackers though that make the Premier League worthy of its name. The ongoing drama of the teams and their desire to go for the title or escape relegation make this weekend’s action overall worth the watch. Regarding the predictions, there have been a few weeks where I have got two correct scorelines, there is the strong desire clinch the hat-trick or more as well as maintain the 50% or over correct outcome record. Its possible, as to whether it will be realised …
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden
International football, then. Yeah. Anyway. That’s that done for the time being.
Moving swiftly on. The Premier League returns, thankfully. Lots to get the teeth into as we consider the games ahead. Before that happens, though, it’s with a touch of nervousness that I consider how the previous set of Premier League predictions turned out. There’s a points system at work which goes as follows: three glorious points for a correct scoreline; one acceptable point for a correct outcome alone; for getting it completely wrong there is absolutely nothing.
Bournemouth 3-1 Sunderland (0 points – actual score 1-2)
Burnley 1-2 Crystal Palace (0 points – actual score 3-2)
Man City 3-0 Middlesbrough (0 points – actual score 1-1)
West Ham 1-1 Stoke (3 points)
Chelsea 2-1 Everton (1 point – actual score 5-0)
Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham (0 points – actual score 1-1)
Hull 1-2 Southampton (0 points – actual score 2-1)
Liverpool 3-1 Watford (1 point – actual score 6-1)
Swansea 1-3 Man Utd (3 points)
Leicester 2-1 West Brom (0 points – actual score 1-2)
It’s a bit odd looking at it. 8 points – that’s exactly the same point total that I got the last time. That collection of points is decent. But the percentage of correct outcomes – 4/10 – that’s not good. I predict to give some leeway for a game or two, but six incorrect outcomes is not too impressive. But still – Hull and Sunderland winning – come on, really? Will wonders ever cease. It was sweet getting two spot on predictions, though. Ahhhhh yeah, when it hits that sweet spot, it makes the whole predicting thing worthwhile.
Onto Week 12 now. Predicting these will be interesting because there’s something about the international break that does something to the momentum of the clubs. Especially with those two poor clubs getting surprising wins it just shakes things up a little. It’s not going to be as straightforward to see how it will go because any previous momentum is not obliged to continue. For all that, though, I will continue with these here predictions.
Man Utd 1-1 Arsenal: This is an intriguing match for so many reasons. The Mourinho-Wenger thing. United needing to get back in the Premier League race. Arsenal not having the greatest record at Old Trafford in recent years. Both teams potentially missing a number of key players. How will Mourinho approach the game at home? How can Wenger get one over on the interminable rival who appears to have been the polar opposite for so long? There is something about the Arsenal way under Wenger that doesn’t give itself over to conservative football. If you have the players that he has at his disposal it is clear that their prime prerogative is to score goals to win games. Since their defeat in the first league game of the season, more often than not, Arsenal have been successful at winning league games. They have not been beaten since August. They are two points off the top of the league and their run has seen them face a North London derby and be disappointed at only picking up a point. That is the sign of a side who are not treating things lightly at all. Meanwhile at Old Trafford things have not been going as well. A number of comments made by Mourinho of late have given the impression that the problems at United are not surface issues. Fans have expressed concerns about the state of the club already. Yet Mourinho has something over Wenger, he knows how to get under his skin more with the way his team plays than with any sort of media hype or interaction. United will certainly miss Bailly, but there is enough tactical nous and strength in them to rise to the challenge of the Gunners. This will not be an easy game for either side, hence the impression that this might turn out to be a draw.
Crystal Palace 1-3 Man City: The games before this break would not have put Pardew in the best of moods. Looking at this fixture would not have brightened his mood much either. Yet, this is a Premier League game against Guardiola and you can imagine the bravura would have got a hold of him. He will see this as a chance to rub shoulders with the very best and look to pull one over the much vaunted Spaniard. To do that, however, he is aware that Palace will have to play a lot better than they have in recent games. A lot better. Concentration for the whole game will be essential so that they do not mess up as they did against Burnley having fought back to get on equal terms having been two goals down. They will have to raise their game and keep it raised to stand any chance against City. As for Guardiola he will be keen to get his side back to winning ways in the league. It was not the plan to follow the impressive defeat of Barcelona with dropping two points against Middlesbrough. These are the sort of games that City would be expected to win with this squad, so now this away trip gives them a good opportunity to reassert their credentials as the favourites to clinch the league trophy that has not decorated their cupboard for nearly three years. What works in City’s favour is the quality available in the key positions. The likes of Sterling, Aguerro and De Bruyne would be a nightmare for any team and now with Gundogan showing his worth to the team with some positive displays the threat is all the more magnified. It will be difficult for a Palace defence that has conceded seven goals in the last two matches to resist that barrage of power. This being a home game, it’s not for Palace to just put ten men behind the ball and hope for the best. In those circumstances City should let their superiority show in the final result.
Everton 2-0 Swansea City: Bob Bradley’s introduction to the Premier League has not been pleasant. Swansea were not doing that well in any case, but they have not shown that many promising signs of improvement in the games since the new man has arrived. Their league tally after eleven games is five points – three of those was in their only win of the season that happened all the way back in August. In their own way the Swans have been in a competition with Hull and Sunderland to see who can be the poorest team in the division. No doubt, however, Bradley will be doing his utmost to prepare his team for the trip to Merseyside for a clash with the blue half. His challenge is relatively straightforward – his side need to start scoring goals and stop conceding them and if they should continue to concede they should at least give themselves a fighting chance by scoring at least as many goals as they concede. You might have observed that what has been asked of them are the basics of the game of football and it is to their basics Swansea must reach to give hope to their fans. Koeman at Everton won’t take this game for granted, though. His own side are still stuttering with inconsistent results and performances. With talk going around about his desire to reinforce the playing staff that’s got to act as a motivator of sorts to get his bunch living up to what he requires of them. This is a very good game for players to prove to the boss that they are more than able to get the win and the performance to match. It is also a good way of completing the expunging of any residue from their previous league match which significantly dented their goal difference.
Southampton 2-3 Liverpool: Overall the Saints shouldn’t be too disappointed with their first ten or so games in the Premier League. As they have done in seasons past they have dealt with the departures and brought savvy both in management and playing staff. Puel has got the hang of this league and should have a better idea of how to go about his business. The last result against Hull will a little annoying though, especially having taken the lead against a team that remains a favourite to return to the Championship. Their next match, though, gives them a completely different challenge. From relegation favourites tehy now face a team currently sitting at the top of the table. There’s something about Puel that gives the impression he actually prefers being the underdog. There’s something about the man that gives the impression he would have studied Liverpool carefully and be able to cannily spot the weaknesses and have a plan to exploit them. They are in a position to pull off a win that won’t be a shock because the team ethos makes them capable of such. For Liverpool this match is their toughest since United visited them at Anfield. Yet there’s something about old boys returning to clubs to haunt them and in Lovren, Lallana and Mane the Reds have ghosts of the Saints past to put them some serious haunting. Beyond these three there should be enough quality in Liverpool to see them absorb the best that the occupiers of St. Mary’s can throw at them. Of course the Reds won’t keep a clean sheet – their actual defence isn’t awful, but it appears as though it’s part of Klopp’s entertainment deal to keep things lively by giving the opposition a fighting chance. Having given that chance, although they have a lot of internationals returning from across the world, Klopp will only be too keen to keep the good run going.
Stoke City 2-1 Bournemouth: Mark Hughes must be chuckling to himself. A month or two ago people were questioning his position. Was he the right man? Was he to blame for the very poor start Stoke had to the season? Now the team are unbeaten six Premier League games. A run that has seen them go from bottom of the table to 12th place a mere six points away from a top 8 place. To say the pressure’s off him would be an understatement. He would suggest they are a lot closer to where they should be in the league and the results and performances would support him in that assertion. Refreshed from the international break, his hope would surely be that they can make the most of the run in this home fixture. For in Bournemouth they face a side who have had a peculiar run of late. They have only won one of their last five matches – the thrashing of Hull. Yet that result seems a vague memore now and particularly compounded from their last result where inexplicably in a home game against the worse team in the league they managed to lose. Losing to Sunderland – people were wondering who on earth would let Sunderland beat them and Eddie Howe’s team won that unenviable prize. This is a run of form now that Howe will want to arrest quickly. No point in Jack Wilshere being happy playing first team football again if that football is not winning games or picking up points. This trip to Stoke-on-Trent won’t be an easy one for the team from the South coast. They know it’s important to emerge with something because after Stoke they then face Arsenal and Liverpool so any hopes of things getting any easier will go flying out of the window. They could do with a good performance and a creditable result to at least give them some foundation on which to face those two heavyweight clashes. Stoke, however, will have every right to fancy their chances.
Sunderland 1-1 Hull City: United v Arsenal arguably the game of the weekend. Two heavyweights coming to blows. As that’s the case then this fixture might be considered the lightweight encounter. Much as Swansea may be competing to be the worst team in the league this season, Sunderland and Hull City have cornered that market. Sunderland have been consistently dross. Hull’s fall from a good start has been a plummet so drastic that it really has reassured everyone who thought they would only be making a brief sojourn in the Premier League. Both teams won in their last run outs. A win can do the club the world of good. You can see both Moyes and Phelan going into the international break in a better frame of mind. They are realistic enough to know that the result doesn’t change their situation where the table is concerned. It doesn’t change the fact that they are in a relegation scrap. What it does, however, is remind players that when they are capable of, you know, actually winning a game of football. There’s something about meeting each other as well that eases their minds from the stress of facing a potential pummelling by a mid table or top of the table side. It will raise the competitive juices ever so slightly in both squads to know that they are facing a team they both believe they can beat. The onus will certainly be on the home side – first because they are the home side and secondly because Sunderland are far better at this relegation scrap than Hull. There’s a valid argument to suggest that the Wearside team should see themselves as slightly superior to their Humberside opponents. Moyes is certainly a more experienced manager than Phelan and will want to apply that to making the most of the advantage. For all that, though, these two sides areat the bottom of the table for a reason. The combination of overall mediocrity between the two should not make this a classic for the ages.
Watford 2-1 Leicester City: Leicester City are the Premier League Champions. Did you know that? Yeah they won it in the 2015-16 season, surprising all of the football world. It was an amazing achievement. They have continued the fairytale with a Champions League run that at present sees them on the verge of qualifying for the knockout stages of the illustrious European tournament. It’s all going swimmingly … except in the Premier League that apparently they won. There are two points separating Leicester and the bottom three. That’s no fluke. Whatever else you call it, this is not a good start to the defence of their title. This was typified in the way they managed to lose a home match to West Brom in their last league outing. Leicester didn’t use to be that loose and easy at home. Against West Brom too- that just wasn’t right. Yet here they are in a league position that would be what you would you usually expect from Leicester, but not with this team that did so well to win the league. Their plight in the league is well personified in the form of Jamie Vardy. He was the hottest thing a few months ago, but now when England strikers are being talked about he’s an afterthought. Still, as hurt as Leicester must be due to their league form, they are not smarting as much as their hosts. Watford were doing really well up until meeting Liverpool at Anfield. Getting beat at Liverpool is no disgrace, but conceding six goals … So Mazzari will be very keen to move on from that and get that out of the system as quickly as possible. He has done well to marshall this collection of players to maintain a team ethos that has seen them well more often than not. They can certainly turn on the stuff at home and the familiarity of Vicarage Road will given them a basis to look at this as a match not against the Premier League Champions but a group of players who are looking more like their mid-table to lower table selves. They’ll look at this as a chance to get three points and I don’t blame them.
Tottenham 2-1 West Ham: These two London clubs had a good season last season. They did better than they hoped. When you do better than you hoped it understandably raises expectations. So this season both clubs had higher aspirations. West Ham had those higher aspirations going into a new stadium and thus far have not done much to live up to those aspirations. so it will come as some relief that the pressure won’t be on them in this away fixture. They won’t be lying down to anyone, they certainly don’t want to get beat by a London opponent, especially Spurs, but they go to this match knowing they are not the favourites to win. With that in mind they can go out and stifle the attacking threat that Spurs have, keep the home crowd quiet and then look to leave with something, perhaps a point and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for them to nick a win. What helps them is how poor Spurs have been in scoring lately. At the beginnning of October they had that famous victory over City by two goals without reply. Since then Spurs have failed to score more than once in a game. Sure they can boast the only unbeaten run in the league, but that is not doing them any favours while their opponents around them are collecting more three points than they are. Getting Kane back from international duty early to carry on with the match fitness work will be a huge help. They can feel confident that if they can keep him ready for the match they should be in with a shout of changing that scoring record around. West Ham won’t be easy opponents at all, they will be eager to spoil any sense of an uplift in Spurs, but Pochettino has a well-drilled system going on with his team. They can pick up a valuable three points in this tie as long as they can impose their usual game.
Middlesbrough 1-3 Chelsea: Boro are no easy team to face. They have not been beaten in their last three matches. Of those three games two of their opponents were Man City and Arsenal. That’s not too shabby for the side promoted from the Championship. They have got some very impressive results with impressive defensive discipline. There’s a spirit developed at the club that bodes well for their chances of staying in the Premier League this season if they maintain this trajectory. They face their toughest test yet, however, in a Chelsea side who arguably are in better form than Arsenal or City. The transformation of Chelsea in recent games means their position in second place is fully deserved. Their deconstruction of Everton in their last outing was but a taste of what their capacity. As their fans drooled over the performance and victory their hopes have been raised and Conte is only fuelling that with his considered approach to the squad. No team has as yet been able to combat the new formation Conte has introduced. There’s solidity in defence, mesmerising pace and skill going forward and in Costa a man who is hungry to score goals. No one would fault Boro if they just looked to put a defence together that can deal with the threats around the pitch. Yet this is easier said than done. Everton found out that it’s one thing mimicking a formation, but it’s to have the players and the style to combat it that makes the difference. Boro should be wary of that as a response. Chelsea, however, will do well not to see this game as simply something they should just take for granted as a win. If they put their professional heads on and treat their opponents with the due respect the win that is predicted will come to pass.
West Brom 1-1 Burnley: Burnley Football Club are in the top half of the table. No. Seriously. They are. Ninth place. Look – it’s right there. Top half. Above the Premier League Champions. That looks good. Then you consider that they are four points away from the relegation places and that gives you the indication of where they are in the league. No room to think they’ve achieved anything yet. Yet at this stage they should be pleased to be doing a lot better than they did the last time they were in the Premier League. They are where they are through hard graft, commitment to the cause and working out that the total is far greater than the sum of their parts when they all chip in to do their task. So it’s with that positive and optimistic outlook that they arrive at the Hawthorns for Monday Night Football. Tony Pulis sees his side only a point behind their opponents and so should feel that his team are going as well as you’d expect them to go. They are not a threat to the teams better than them, they are not threatened by teams around them. Their Premier League arrangement seems to be working for them and in Tony Pulis they have the right man to keep things ticking over that way. They won’t be threatened by Burnley and with it taking place on their own territory they should be relatively confident that they could collect all three points. You know how it is, though, when you have two teams that are hard working, honest, diligent sorts with little in the way of creativity and flair then the result can look to be veering one way.
This week’s fixtures are not easy at all and as you can tell I don’t see that much in the way of goal-fests taking place in these matches. I have been wrong before, though, yet on this occasion I as ever hope I’m right more than I’m wrong – getting more than two correct scorelines will also be pretty sweet!
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden
The good news – it’s another week of Premier League football. The bad news this takes place before yet another international break. Thankfully, however, it’s the last international break of the year and then we can get into domestic football until next February or March.
Before we consider this week’s worth of matches, it’s worth seeing if as I hoped I exceeded the measly two points collected from week 9, in last week’s action. It’s always worth going through the scoring system – three points for the correct scoreline, one point for the right outcome and diddly squat for getting it all wrong.
Sunderland 0-3 Arsenal (1 point – actual score 1-4)
Man Utd 2-1 Burnley (0 points – actual score 0-0)
Middlesbrough 1-1 Bournemouth (0 points – actual score 2-0)
Tottenham 1-1 Leicester (3 points)
Watford 2-0 Hull (1 point – actual score 1-0)
West Brom 1-3 Man City (1 point – actual score 0-4)
Crystal Palace 2-2 Liverpool (0 points – actual score 2-4)
Everton 1-1 West Ham (0 points – actual score 2-0)
Southampton 1-2 Chelsea (1 point – actual score 0-2)
Stoke 2-1 Swansea (1 point – actual score 3-1)
Well it certainly wasn’t two points was it, eh? 8 points is a very good collection for the week and getting a 60% correct outcome in the games was a pleasing response to 20%. When you consider I was cautious about Liverpool and United really should have thrashed Burnley out of sight that could have easily gone up to an 80% rate. Still, it’s back to business as far as the prediction thing goes for me.
Now, it’s time to see how it goes in considering this week’s worth of matches.
Bournemouth 3-1 Sunderland: “There are no easy games in the Premier League.” This is the mantra that all Premier League managers are obliged to repeat to themselves and intimate at every pre-match press conference. But then there’s Sunderland. I am not saying they are pushovers, neither am I suggesting they are a bunch of perpetual losers. What I am saying is that Bournemouth fans will look at this game taking place at home and expect a win. They are not the only ones. David Moyes must be wondering what he has done to deserve the side he manages. It is great example of the term ‘thankless task’. Being record breakers for having the lowest points tally after ten games is not the sort of record you want on your CV. They go to the Vitality Stadium hoping to do something … and really and truly it’s difficult to see how they are going to achieve that. No obvious change in their team, no obvious change in their approach, no obvious way of seeing how they can do what is necessary to leave the south coast with anything more than another result that sees them rooted to the bottom of the Premier League. That is not to say Bournemouth can take the game for granted, but the way Eddie Howe goes about his business, it’s unlikely they will approach this game with any complacency, especially coming off a disappointing result in their last game.
Burnley 1-2 Crystal Palace: This is an interesting match. An interesting match in terms of considering who could possibly win it, not necessarily an interesting match in terms of being interesting to watch. Burnley have made a better start to their season than most would have expected collecting seven points from Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United the first two were maximum points from home games. That means Crystal Palace arrive at Turf Moor knowing that a win is going to be a tough task. The home side should be very confident going into this game unbeaten in the last two league matches and playing well. The Dyche approach shows they have learnt well from the exertions of their previous season in the Premier League and on their current trajectory there’s no reason why they cannot believe that they can make a good fist of staying in the league this season. So why on earth am I suggesting that Crystal Palace is going to leave the North with three points? Surely they should be grateful to be emerging from this match with a point at a very hard place to play football thus far this season. There’s something about this predicting thing, however, where I look to buck the trend. Palace are not in a good run of form of late, but will be all the more eager to turn that around. They have the attacking threat to be able to get goals and have already won up North. They can do it and maybe this is the game to do it. That’s the main thrust behind believing Palace will do what the Merseyside teams have failed to do.
Man City 3-0 Middlesbrough: Insufferable. That colleague at work who got a win on the lottery. The woman who got to see her favourite niece and wants to let you know just how cute she is. And Manchester City fans telling you how they beat the greatest team ever. Don’t tell them that Barcelona had key injuries in defence. Don’t tell them that Barcelona could afford to take it easy on a match like this because they knew they would bring it when its needed. Just listen to them harp about how great they are and how Guardiola is their man to lead them to the promised land of Champions League as well as Premier League glory. Back in the real world, though, Pep will be more than aware that he cannot afford to take anything for granted as they host the team from Teeside. Boro will certainly not be coming to lay down and be trounced on by the likes of Aguerro, Gundogan and De Bruyne. They will provide stiff competition knowing full well that they are not the favourites for this match. They will come prepared to stifle the opponents play and hope for any counter attacks they can muster. They will put up a fight, there is little doubt about that. They will certainly need to do so. Yet for all the fight they can come up with, you have to say those names again – Aguerro, Gundogan and De Bruyne – also consider a return to form of Sterling and there is a defender’s nightmare to contemplate. City still are not convincing in their defensive displays, but when you have the ball and press as quickly as they do without it, there might be enough to spare them that aggravation on this occasion. The home fans who are currently insufferable will be looking for more reason to continue to be insufferable and I don’t see Boro stopping them.
West Ham 1-1 Stoke: The Potters are happy. Three wins on the bounce. They’re on the up and they’re playing with confidence and competence with results that back that up. Hughes rightly sees them as a team that’s meant to be in the top half of the table, so their points collection in recent games will give them hope going forward. Meanwhile West Ham are still kind of slumbering around the lower half of the table. They need to hit their own run of form that sees them winning more games than not winning. There’s little doubt looking at the manager and players, that they too will see themselves as a team that should be a lot higher up the table. The troubles they are having with their home ground is continuing to get headlines and the grumbling doesn’t appear to be subsiding any time soon. That is not the sort of set up you want as you prepare for the arrival of an in form side. The onus is on the home side to press forward, the onus is on the home side to be getting the chances. Hughes will know that to a large degree the pressure is more on Bilic than it is on him. That will suit the Welshman down to the ground. He has developed a team that prides itself on its robust nature so they won’t be easy to face. There be goals in them there Potters from somewhere and that’s just as well with the injuries and suspensions they carry with them. It’s for that factor that I reckon this match will end in a score draw, which will certainly favour the away side than it will those who are forever blowing bubbles.
Chelsea 2-1 Everton: This is one of the tough matches to predict. Sure, Chelsea are doing well in the league at the moment. Their dismantling of United and beating Southampton away gives them a great deal of confidence. The way they’re playing at the moment makes them a threat going forward and solid as a rock in defence. The players are buying into the manager and their performances are proving that. Matic who was criticised last season, is doing well this season. Cahill was having a nightmare earlier this season, but now looks assured. Some say that this system is suiting Luiz because he has two other defenders around him, but I would say the weak link has been Cahill who is reassured by the solidity of the defensive make up. That’s all without looking at how well their attack has been doing. Pedro has been something of an unsung hero in recent matches, but it’s tough to get room for attention when Hazard is picking up the form that got him Player of the Year a while back and Costa is a menacing beast up front ever likely to score a goal or two. That can appear somewhat daunting a task for Everton. There’s reasons to believe, though, that Koeman will not be afraid of this challenge. At this stage of the building work he’s doing at Everton, he will know what is expected of him and how to approach this game. He is no mug when it comes to Premier League football. At least in Gueye and Barry in front of Williams and Jagielka he has a platform from which to establish a defence to limit the chances his opponents get. If Bolasie hits his stride and Lukaku looks up for giving his old team a fright then there’s a possibility that they could do well at Stamford Bridge. This will not be the thrashing that Chelsea handed to United, expect it to be a much tougher game. This Conte character is clever, though and he has enough of what it takes to have the edge in how his team will approach this game.
Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham: This is the game of the weekend. The North London derby where the stakes are higher than they have been in recent seasons. Spurs enter this match looking to get back on track with the thing called winning a game of football having failed to have done so in the last couple of matches. They also could do with a win to close the gap on the side that are currently flying high at the top of the table only on goal difference yielding to City. That win would give Spurs a massive boost going into the international break. You look at their side and despite the lack of Kane this team are well drilled and disciplined and have good performances in them. They are not a poor side overnight and they remain the only side yet to suffer defeat in the Premier League this season. I would say, though, that the favourites will be the home team. There’s an argument to be made that Arsenal are the form team in the Premier League. They have players on form all over the pitch. They can feel more than confident of winning this match. If they hit top gear they could be unstoppable. It will be said that issues of form will go out of the window because this is a local derby and all that, but Spurs are struggling to score goals and Wenger won’t have to do much to motivate his players to live up to the occasion. This is why I see this being a home win and the only thing that would stop that from happening is if Arsenal somehow played underneath themselves. It’s not impossible, but this is Arsenal at home, Ozil is still getting plaudits for his wonders, people are getting used to Sanchez getting used to playing up front. There’s a steel to Arsenal so far that sees them winning games when it doesn’t always look as though they should. So this will be theirs to lose over anything else.
Hull 1-2 Southampton: Sunderland are the worst team in the Premier League. No doubt about that. Yet there is a team that has an even worse goal difference than them. That team are Hull City. When I think about Sunderland I shake my head and chuckle. When I think about Hull City, I shrug my shoulders and then shake my head and chuckle. After all, before the start of the season what were we saying about them? Weren’t they the favourites to get relegated? So why is it any wonder that they find themselves third from bottom. That’s Hull actually doing well all things considered. What is it about Hull that makes them so … incapable of winning games of Premier League football? The defence? The midfield? The attack? The manager? The lack of effective transfers to boost the team? All the above? Whatever it is will be coming face to face with a Southampton side that will be a little disappointed to have lost to Chelsea in their previous match. This is a Southampton side that have been doing well this season so far in the league. Not setting the world on fire by any means, but they’re doing alright. They will want to get back to doing alright and they face almost the perfect team to help them do that. Of course the perfect team would have been Sunderland, but Hull City are the kind of side who are generous enough to let the Saints leave with three points. This is not a gimme, though and the Saints will need to get into proper gear and remain disciplined in exploiting the weaknesses of their opponents to truly have returned to doing alright in the league. What’s that? Am I ruling out Hull City? Am I saying they have no chance? No, that is not what I am saying. This is the Premier League, they can win it, it’s possible. It’s just that they won’t.
Liverpool 3-1 Watford: Have you noticed where Watford are in the league? They are up in 7th place! They are only looking up to see City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and Everton. That’s not too shabby at all. They’ve kinda crept up into that position really, but it’s no fluke. The table doesn’t lie. They have worked hard to accrue the point that sees them where they are in the table and they will feel they can continue in similar manner to once more reaffirm their place in the Premier League for another season. Now if you had said something like that at the start of the season there may have been one or two raised eyebrows at such confidence. Yet Mazzari has done a tremendous job getting into the Premier League and adjusting so quickly and so well. All that good will and positive opening ten games will now be put to arguably their biggest test of the season so far. For something unusual is happening at Anfield. The argument was that it was against the lesser teams that Liverpool would struggle after going unbeaten against United, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea. Yet the only team they have failed to beat outside those top teams is Burnley and that defeat looks more and more like a blip as they collect three points from lesser team after so called lesser team. The win against Crystal Palace last week should not be underestimated. That win away from home against a side they have struggle against n time past, continues their very impressive run in the league this season. An impressive run that few people would have expected of a side considered to be so inconsistent. Any football fan observing this will understand then that feeling in the back of the mind that there’s a slip up coming, the run has to come to an end at some point, the bubble has to be burst eventually and it would be typical of Liverpool to do that at home against a Warford side that some would suggest is meant to be among those lesser teams that Liverpool struggle to put away. With that feeling in mind, however, there is still the reality that says Liverpool go into this match as favourites. Sure that means the pressure is off the visiting team and they can afford to play as stifling a game as they like to keep the home fans quiet. Yet Liverpool have in their ranks players who can turn a game around in a second. They also have a defence that can concede in a second too. Yet the feeling is as much they may concede they still will tend to score more than they concede and Watford may not be the team to stop that run.
Swansea 1-3 Man Utd: Do you know the worse football fan to be in the Premier League at the moment? It’s not Leicester even though the Champions are off the pace. It’s not Hull or Sunderland even though their form is awful at present. No, the worse football fan to be at the moment is a Manchester United fan. Few fans would have demanded a Premier League title as a given in Mourinho’s first season, but they certainly felt a top four place was a more than reasonable expectation. Yet they’re looking up at Watford among other teams at the moment. Ibrahimovic was meant to be scoring the goals. Pogba was meant to dominate from midfield. Mkhitaryan was meant toe be on the pitch playing. All of those things have yet to truly materialise especially in recent games. They are on the second turgid run of form already this season where they have only won one of their last four games. Commentators are saying they lack confidence, observers are questioning if the manager knows his best team and system, the pundits are lining up to give the benefit of their opinion as to why it’s all going so wrong. Fans are wondering why the young players aren’t given more playing time. It is not a good place to be being a Man Utd fan at this moment. What they don’t really need while all this is happening is a trip to Wales to face a Swansea side who are getting used to new management with Bob Bradley. They don’t need it primarily because the man Bradley is all the more impatient to see his side turn up and perform and produce a winning performance. He’s desperate to do it. He has the swagger and confidence in himself to believe he can do it and just like Watford, he will believe he has the blueprint to collect a scalp in the out of form United side. When considered in this light, the score I am predicting may appear somewhat odd. Here’s the thinking though. For all the mourning and bewailing taking place about United at the moment, there have been more than enough signs that they are capable of turning a game in their favour. That Burnley result on last time out in the league was just bizarre. In any other match of that sort United would have run out comfortable winners. That is to say they have it in them, its just for that which is within to finally manifest itself in a game where they return with three points. That is this game. It won’t necessarily be pretty to watch, but Mourinho still know how to do the ugly well to emerge with three points and that is all that matters at the club at this time. They will do it, because they don’t want to make matters worse for themselves by seeing the insufferable City fans gloat at them from the top of the tree as the international break looms.
Leicester 2-1 West Brom: Leicester didn’t have the best of times in Europe, only managing to get a draw against Copenhagen when their form might have suggested they could have done a bit better. But hey, they’re yet to be defeated in Europe and that’s a positive thing. Their league form? Not as positive. Things have been a little better of late, they won two of their four league matches and drew another one, but it’s a fairly underwhelming defence of their title. Nevertheless Ranieiri still has a squad that is capable of getting a draw against a tough Spurs side and their last home match saw them comfortably beat Palace. Despite the injury to Schmeichel, City will go into their next league match feeling as though they are the favourites. They will feel that way because their opponents are stubborn old West Brom who are not exactly on the up. They have not won in five league games and they have lost their last two games. Now sure those two were against City and Liverpool, but it is a losing streak and getting out of a losing streak is not looking that much more likely when your next game is away at the Premier League Champions. We know Pulis will be keen to see his side retain some defensive solidity. We know West Brom won’t be that easy to beat. Yet we also know that West Brom are hardly oozing with goals from all corners and they won’t be the hardest side Leicester will face this season. This will not go down as the game of the year and it will not be competing for game of the weekend either. That won’t matter to Pulis as long as his side can follow orders, take on the training that they’ve been drilled on all week and then make life extremely difficult for their hosts. If they can do that to a side who are recovering from their latest European adventure then they can have hope of getting something from the match. What’s more likely, however, is that Ranieiri will look to lift his side one more time before the international break to do something pleasing to the team.
I am going to miss domestic football for the international fortnight, but before that is set before me, I hope I can see perhaps even more improvement on the scoring for this week’s predictions. These matches are not straightforward, but I can feel confident about at least getting one or two more correct outcomes from the games this weekend.
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden
This week sees the teams in the Premier League play their tenth league fixture. Not far off getting a third of the way through the campaign. It’s a good mix of home and away games played to give them a good view of how their season may pan out. So positive results for the teams this week can go a long way to improving their perspectives going forward.
As far as this predictions gig goes, it will also be a good chance to review how things have gone so far. Before we look at the coming week’s fixtures, let’s have a look back – if I dare – at how my predictions actually turned out from week 9. As ever I get three delicious points if I get the correct scoreline. I satisfy myself with a solitary point if I only get the right outcome. As for missing both, then I end up with zilch.
Bournemouth 1-2 Tottenham (0 points – actual score 0-0)
Arsenal 3-1 Middlesbrough (0 points – actual score 0-0)
Burnley 1-2 Everton (0 points – actual score 2-1)
Hull 1-1 Stoke (0 points – actual score 0-2)
Leicester 2-2 Crystal Palace (0 points – actual score 3-1)
Swansea 2-1 Watford (0 points – actual score 0-0)
West Ham 2-1 Sunderland (1 point – actual score 1-0)
Liverpool 3-1 West Brom (1 point – actual score 2-1)
Man City 3-1 Southampton (0 points – actual score 1-1)
Chelsea 1-1 Man Utd (0 points – actual score 4-0)
I like couples. I’m a happily married man and a better man for being a part of a couple. Yet when it comes to winning two points out of a possible 30 that is not a good week. Only two correct outcomes from ten is also an abysmal rating. The thing is, it was not a freak week of results. The only result that was genuinely surprising was Burnley beating Everton. Chelsea thumping United wasn’t expected, but a win wasn’t unusual. To be so wrong with so many outcomes was bitterly disappointing.
Yet we cannot allow such weeks to put us off the challenge. A good thing about hitting such a low is that things cannot get worse than this. I believe in my ability to suss out a game of football in the Premier League. These things happen and previous weeks have shown I am more than capable of getting correct outcomes. So it is onwards and definitely upwards (he says in hope) as we consider this week’s fixtures.
Sunderland 0-3 Arsenal: Sunderland. Come on. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the Stadium of Light could be rocking to the beat of ecstatic fans after a famous victory against the Gunners. But seriously. Come on. This is a team that appears allergic to scoring goals. This is a team that appears generous in giving others a chance to score against them. Some are making an argument that there have been worse teams in Premier League history, but even that discussion goes to show just how poor this team is. This is not helped by a manager who from the start wrote off his side as being in a relegation scrap from the start. As with other new managers at clubs, it takes a while for him to embed his plans and the like and he is still within this grace limit. Though the signs are not good for the team from Wearside. That will not be helped by a refreshed Arsenal side who were able to make progress in the EFL Cup without affecting their first team regulars. This is an Arsenal team on a good run of form, they have not tasted defeat in weeks. They are on the up. They can score goals even if they don’t believe in playing a striker who is a striker. They can certainly score goals against this Sunderland side. It may not be a thrashing, but it should be a comfortable three points for the away side.
Man Utd 2-1 Burnley: What is Mourinho’s best side? Should they play a team with Carrick, Rashford, Mata, Pogba, Herrera and Ibrahimovic? Should this team be featuring the likes of Mkhitaryn and Martial? What are they going to do with their defence with the immense Bailly injured? It’s clear that this United team have not got into their rhythm as yet. Mourinho is still working things out and the results reflect that. This game, however, presents them with the perfect opportunity to make progress. Burnley are no walkovers. They take their game seriously and as Everton and Liverpool have found out recently, they can beat the big boys on their day. They turn up to Old Trafford quietly confident of being able to put the effort in and hopefully leave the Theatre of Dreams with a point and maybe more. That could happen, their team ethos is good and they work really hard. One reason why I do not think that will happen is that Manchester United are six points behind the league leaders at the moment. They do not want that gap to widen at all. They are a better side than Burnley. Mourinho prides himself on winning at home. There’s also a niggling issue with Ibrahimovic having been off the goalscoring track of late. There’s a game where that needs to be sorted and this could well be the game. United have a thrashing in them, but Burnley won’t roll over and allow it. It should be a home win, though.
Middlesbrough 1-1 Bournemouth: I would be very surprised indeed if this game was the first to be shown on a highlights programme of the Premier League fixtures this weekend. I would also be very surprised if this was a goalsfest. Not to say it’s got a bore draw written all over it, but it’s worth remembering this was a Championship game not so long ago. These two are hardly Premier League mainstays and they have a desire to ensure they maintain their league status this season. Boro might well have got a creditable draw at the Emirates in their last outing, but they know to truly survive they have to win this game. Their form beforehand was not what they desired and particularly in front of their home fans, they are keen to make amends. In Bournemouth, however, they face a side who are much on the up. They have been battling well in games lately and with a thrashing of Hull and a good draw to Spurs they are in a good position. Eddie Howe’s side play a progressive brand of football and that should make them hard to beat against a team they see as slightly inferior. It’s away from home, though, so as ever they have to focus on ensuring they are not going to be beaten. On that basis there’s every reason to believe they can do something useful in this match. It also suggests that this game may just end up in a draw, thus ensuring they won’t quite be the first pick for the highlights producers this weekend.
Tottenham 1-1 Leicester: Spurs, eh. They have lost their first domestic game of the season at Anfield in the EFL Cup. Sure it was a weakened selection, but it is still a defeat. More of a concern for them is the fact that they have not been scoring many goals of late. The likes of Son and Janssen were thought to be enough cover for Kane, but that’s not really working out as yet. That has got to be a concern as they face the league champions. Not that Leicester are playing like a team to be feared when it comes to their league form at the moment. Rainieiri may well refer to the Foxes returning to their ‘philosophy’ in beating Crystal Palace, but in Spurs they face yet another big team away from home. They have not had to bother about league cup action, they are rested and focused, their top players should be up for this challenge. One player in particular, Vardy, has yet to really show up this season. If he starts, this would be a good place to start and show that last season wasn’t a one season wonder. With Spurs having to do without an important central defender in Alderweireld, it could be an opportunity to exploit, if he turns up. This will be a very difficult match for both sides and it is fair to suggest both sides need a win. The home team have the strength to get back to winning ways, but I also think Claudio will want to see his lads show up and make things very difficult for the White Hart Lane faithful.
Watford 2-0 Hull: There isn’t a worse team in the Premier League than Sunderland, they are losing games like it’s their calling in life. Having said that, Hull City are doing their best to challenge them to that unenviable status. Maybe there was a degree of sympathy that made me think they could get a point at home to Stoke City. Any sympathy expressed then was snuffed out as the Tigers cowered like pussy cats to lose to the Potters. Now they have to go all the way down to Vicarage Road and somehow look to see if they can pick up their season again. In Watford they face a team who could well give them three points – they are not invincible even at home. So there’s hope for the … nah not really. Watford may not convince all the time but there is something in Mazzari that gives me the impression that he will not want to look this gift horse in the mouth. He will want the Hornets to fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee all over the beleaguered opponents. Having got a decent point in the last match at Swansea, he will want to reinforce those credentials with a tough defence being the springboard to send the home fans happy. There’s little about their opponents that gives the impression he will be disappointed.
West Brom 1-3 Man City: Around this time last week, I questioned whether City could really go that long without winning a game. A week and two games later they are showing they are more than capable of just that. Kompany is not fit at all, regardless of the games he gets. Aguerro seems to be out of sorts. Even De Bruyne has lost a little steam from recent games. No one is hailing the form of Sterling anymore. Their defence is not that much of a scare to teams these days. They remain at the top of the table, but from the blistering start they have made they are more than susceptible at the moment. West Brom are licking their wounds from a defeat at Anfield. It might have been a little disappointing following their noble point against Spurs at home, but the thing about the Baggies is they kind of know their place. They are not going to win the league this season. They are not going to finish in the top six. They know that what they have to offer is the sort of grit and determination to be a real bugbear to anyone they come across. In Pulis they have a coach who knows how to drill into his teams the necessary work ethic to be a thorn in the side of the most accomplished teams. So it would be only right and fitting in the light of these circumstances to predict a draw. Guardiola has not faced an opponent like Pulis before – this is a whole new ball game for him and this should be a stern test. So why have I plumped for an away win? Because there is something in me that says that a man of Guardiola’s calibre with a team of City’s quality should find going this amount of time without a win simply unacceptable and now is the time to do something about it. It won’t be an easy win at all, but win they must. Right?
Crystal Palace 2-2 Liverpool: Be in no doubt, I believe in Jurgen Klopp. His project at Anfield in just over a year has thus far seen improvement in the squad and the team. They can score goals and they come from a variety of sources. The Palace defence is not the hardest they have faced, so they should approach this match with some confidence that they can keep the scoring flowing. The win against Spurs in midweek with an entire team overhaul would act as something tremendously encouraging to the visitors meaning that the likes of Coutinho and Firmino are ready to return and make their impact on this match. Palace’s season is marked by inconsistency, but they will not be underestimated when it comes to Liverpool. Their record against the Reds at Selhurst Park is not a bad at all in recent years. The good time vibes at Liverpool might want to continue but few teams are better at popping their party balloons than Palace. Heightening those chances of a spoiling atmosphere is the presence of Christian Benteke. His stint at Anfield involved goals, but nowhere near the amount that was expected. That and the sense that Klopp did not appear to see him fitting in his plans is enough of a motive to want to give him a taste of what he’s missing. This is a tough test for the Anfield side and it will require a great deal of resilience, patience and quality to overcome this Palace side and maintain their positive start to the season. On this occasion, however, they may not have quite enough to come out as clear winners.
Everton 1-1 West Ham: In the back of his mind, Koeman must still be baffled as to how his side lost at Turf Moor last Saturday. He must be sitting there scratching his head looking to figure out just how they left without a point. As with some other managers, Koeman can afford to put it down to his side still getting accustomed to him and his new style and likewise him getting used to what his team can do both positively and negatively. It will still be annoying to him, though. With that being the case he will demand a response from his side. Nothing less than a win would satisfy the boss in this home game. West Ham did not have the best starts to the season by any stretch of the imagination. They are not playing that much better at the moment, but the results have certainly picked up. Indeed their mini-winning streak will give them a great deal of confidence coming into this match. They have sufficient in their personnel to be aware of the threats their opponents offer and although they are not scoring a lot of goals at the moment, they still have enough to pose a problem for the Toffees. This is what makes the game so tight to call. The home side should really feel confident of winning this game, but it’s not unusual for that to be reason for the opposing side to look to quiet the home side by stifling their energy and any momentum they want to pick up. It’s one of the more intriguing match-ups of the weekend, which is why I am plumping for honours shared in this game.
Southampton 1-2 Chelsea: The euphoria that surrounded Stamford Bridge after the home side thrashed Man United 4-0 on Sunday was palpable. Even the loss to West Ham in midweek has not done much to dampen the optimism regarding what Conte is doing with the Blues. The 3-4-3 formation is looking to be a good one for the players at his disposal. They are well drilled to protect when they need to and burst forward as the occasion arises. Hazard and Costa are running into form at a good time in the season. There are reasons to be cheerful if you support the West London team and pundits are saying in the light of the recent league win that Conte is more than capable of getting this team into a top four finish and maybe something more. That will in no way phase or intimidate Puel’s side who are unbeaten in the league since early September. Though many again predicted they would suffer after managerial and player upheaval once again the Saints confound those concerns with a decent run of results that sees them comfortably in the top half of the table. Puel has got accustomed to the Premier League in quick time, arguably better than a number of other new managers at clubs. The draw they got at the Etihad last week was not a surprise to them. The team ethic of the side is as established as it has been in previous managers and they should approach this game with the belief that the Chelsea side they face are not as good as the City side they were able to nullify. The difference in this match, though, is that Conte is developing a practice with his side that can absorb whatever a side throws at them when they play away from home. Their defensive discipline and the thrust of their attacks on their day can see them clinch the three points as should be the case in this Sunday’s match.
Stoke 2-1 Swansea: Mark Hughes is not bragging at the moment, but he can feel quietly contented at the way recent results have gone in their favour. Although their position in the table rightly prevents them from seeing themselves as out of the woods just yet, they are on an upward trajectory. Bob Bradley, meanwhile, is still getting used to the Premier League, it’s still very early days for him and his side to get used to each other. This trip to Staffordshire will not be one they will be relishing either. Hughes is hoping that this will be the game that sees his loan signing Bony start scoring and it would be fitting for him to get back in the habit against a side he played for and did the business more regularly. If Stoke can keep their positive momentum going with contributions from players who have yet to hit top gear as well as getting good performances from the impressive Bojan and Allen then they have reason to look forward to this match. There are glimpses, however, in the matches so far under the new boss that Swansea have little reason to worry. It will not be a Monday Night Football classic, but this game has the ingredients for a relatively enjoyable Premier League fixture. Those ingredients also indicate that Stoke may be well in a position to have their cake and eat it.
Ten fixtures for the tenth game of the league campaign thus far. I am confident of doing a lot better than I did last week where the predictions are concerned. There is no stand out must-watch game, but there are plenty of interesting contests that could go either way.
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden