FA Cup, League Cup, domestic trophies, both. Yeah, well now that is out of the picture for the time being we can resume with the big business of the league campaign. Seems like so long since a league game was played, but now we’re back at it. Let’s consider how the previous round of games went.
As ever the points system for the predictions work as follows- three points for a spot on scoreline, one point for the right outcome and nothing for nothing.
Middlesbrough 1-1 Leicester City (1 point – actual score 0-0)
Everton 2-1 Southampton (1 point – actual score 3-0)
Man City 3-0 Burnley (1 point – actual score 2-1)
Sunderland 0-4 Liverpool (0 points – actual score 2-2)
West Brom 3-1 Hull City (3 points)
West Ham 1-2 Man Utd (1 point – actual score 0-2)
Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal (0 points – actual score 3-3)
Crystal Palace 1-0 Swansea (0 points – actual score 1-2)
Stoke City 2-2 Watford (0 points – actual score 2-0)
Tottenham 1-2 Chelsea (0 points – actual score 2-0)
Seven points is not a good score to collect, yet it’s even worse when we look at the percentage of correct outcomes which only mustered a below par 40%. Not the best outcome for me in this set of predictions. Some of which might have to be down to the fact that some had to play so soon after they had played previously. No consolation though. Though when the correct scoreline I get is a game featuring West Brom scoring more than two goals, then that is a clear sign that these are strange days indeed.
There now awaits another round of games for me to ponder and predict and hopefully garner a better collection of points than the last time out.
Tottenham 2-1 West Brom: This should be an intriguing fixture primarily because West Brom are putting together a better points collection this season than they have in a while. It’s gone beyond saying it’s a fluke for them. It is down to the entire squad adapting well to the requirements of Pulis and getting the results to go with it. Sure, the FA Cup defeat wasn’t good, but Pulis has not built a reputation for teams winning things. He’s built a reputation for teams that are hard to beat. Meanwhile Spurs are running into a spot of form themselves and will not just be glad to have progressed in the FA Cup, they will be looking to build off a very good win against the apparently unstoppable Chelsea the last time they had a league fixture. This will not be as easy as other home fixtures Spurs have had of late, the players should certainly know they have been in a struggle when the final whistle blows at the end of this match. There is a quality gap between these two clubs, though, as evidenced in their season’s aspirations. West Brom are in the top half and delirious about it. Spurs are in the top four and battling to stay there. That quality should be the difference in this match.
Burnley 2-1 Southampton: Ahhhhhh Southampton. It was going fairly well. It wasn’t going great, but there were signs that once more the club had made an astute signing bringing in Puel to take over from Koeman. At the moment, though, the Saints are in a tricky patch where in the league they are getting the wrong results at the wrong places. It’s not the best time to be visiting Turf Moor. More and more Sean Dyche is looking like he might pull it off and keep Burnley in the Premier League for the season which in large part will be down to their form at home. The team ethos, the will to make it all about the joint effort and not making a fuss over individuals has forged a tough identity for the Lancastrian side. That cracking home form should see them feeling confident facing a Saints side that has little in the way of a significant attacking threat. As ever, though, this is a Premier League match and Southampton won’t be pushovers in anysense of the word. Looking at who can win this match is not a quality issue, it’s a matter of character and at present that is why the North West side look better equipped to get the three points from this encounter.
Hull City 1-1 Bournemouth: In as much as I wasn’t predicting Phelan’s sacking, it has not come as much of a shock to the system. I am sure it’s not the first time and unlikely to be the last where a successful caretaker spell leads to a huge fail when a permanent appointment is subsequently made. This seems like a great time for Bournemouth to pop in then while there’s still a settling period taking in with the new manager. Eddie Howe may be kicking themselves over throwing a three goal lead away and then getting dumped out of the FA Cup unceremoniously, but their goal at the start of the season would have been staying in the Premier League if at all possible. To that end they will be saving themselves for games like this where they know they have a fighting chance of getting maximum points to help their cause. They will consider the personnel available at Hull City to put out a fit first team squad and they could be licking their lips at the possibility of facing so many novices. Yet their record away from the Vitality Stadium and the unknown factor of what the new guy can bring into Humberside team is reason to think getting the three points will not be as easy as taking candy from a baby.
Sunderland 1-2 Stoke City: Sunderland are fighting for survival in the Premier League. They are very close to that points-wise. They are only third from bottom. They are just one point away from safety. Yet it is not that straightforward for the Mackems. They are two points off rock bottom of the table and they know any slip ups will give hope to Crystal Palace, the team above them. Gaining a point at home to Liverpool was almost seen as a win for them and understandably so. They look at other games as the ones where they need to be picking up the points. Games like this one against the Potters. Stoke City are at present being their usual erratic and inconsistent selves. Just when it looks like they turn a corner, the corner proves to be a mirage. Just when it looks like they couldn’t score to save their lives, they can pluck up a win seemingly from nowhere. There is no doubt, however, that this will not be important to them when they travel up north. Hughes has said that their target is 7th place. It’s good that they have a target, but from now they have to cut out some of the sloppy performances that have seen them concede a lot of goals in recent games. Sunderland will feel they can get the better of Stoke. Yet there should still be enough about the side from Staffordshire to give them the edge in this fixture.
Swansea 0-3 Arsenal: Apparently, Arsenal see themselves as title contenders. Genuine, honest, proper title contenders. So what are they doing in 5th place? What are they doing celebrating a comeback from 3 goals down to draw at Bournemouth? A draw at Bournemouth is reason to be happy. Oh, wait a minute, yeah everything about the spirit and their mentality that they won’t give up and thing. Regular Arsenal observers, however, will detect something only too familiar about the Gunners position. Sure, they could win the league. It’s not impossible. Results like the one at Bournemouth, however, are still two points dropped in looking to catch up a significant points gap. Thankfully, however, they can now do their chances the world of good with a trip to Wales. They should have beaten Bournemouth, no doubt, but in Swansea they face a side who are virtually there as the whipping boys to the big teams. Bradley has gone and been replaced by another newbie to the Premier League. Clement might have some experience as an assistant but the hot seat is a completely different kettle of fish. As far as that kettle is concerned, things will certainly boil up for him in this encounter. Those fighting relegation usually see games like this as a chance to look for a bonus, like nabbing a point if at all possible. Yet with the dire quality of this Swansea side, there shouldn’t be a possibility especially when facing a team that is making claims to be genuine, honest, proper title contenders.
Watford 1-1 Middlesbrough: This is unlikely to be the match of the day. That statement right there is another bid for understatement of the year. Watford are not on a good run of form at the moment. Their performances don’t encourage much in the way of positivity either. There’s little that can be done in this January transfer window to drastically transform their fortunes and so they are left to scrap it out in a tough second half of the season that could still see them sucked into the relegation struggle. A team that is closer to that struggle is Middlesbrough. It’s not that surprising that they are struggling as much because they are a side promoted, but they might feel a little aggrieved that for the money spent on attacking talent they have not seen that much in the way of a return with the goals. That and their away record does not make this match look like much in the way of a game to see the goals flowing. The home side will be looking to set things right for the run in the second half of the league campaign and they might be encouraged by that poor away form of the side they face, but there’s something about this fixture that screams more of the kind of draw that does absolutely nothing to appease any of those with doubts.
West Ham 2-1 Crystal Palace: Just when you thought it was safe to think West Ham were turning a corner, it then becomes apparent that their nightmare of a first season at their new stadium rumbles on. Now it’s the issue about their best player, Payet, not wanting to play. I say Payet is their best player, but there’s been little to suggest that he looks like the player who had a dazzling display at the Euros. The mood of the club is something that has been symptomatic of some of his performances this season. This issue is unlikely to cheer the home crowd who are still grumbling at the way things are going on their own patch. For all this to happen in time for the visit of their former manager is not going to be good for them. Big Sam will be relishing the opportunity to further the troubles at his old club with his new club. Despite the defeat to Swansea, he will still believe his team is more than capable of putting a decent performance that will stymie the home side and go on to dare hope they can leave with all three points. So in the light of all of that it’s a bit odd that I’m still going for a home win. But this is one of those predictions that is done in reflection of the quirky way that league results can spring up.
Leicester 1-3 Chelsea: They are still to be referred to as the Premier League champions, because they still have the trophy they lifted last May. They are the reigning champions. To say that is a thing of the past is pretty evident with their placing in the table at the moment. It will be significant achievement if they finish this season in the top half of the table. Meanwhile their visitors may have suffered their first defeat in 14 games, but that was after that run of 13 straight wins that leaves them in a position of being able to lose that game and still being five points clear. They could afford to lose this match and still be top of the league. They will not lose this match. It was a great result for Leicester to beat Man City at home. It will take something more however to beat this Chelsea side. Chelsea’s defensive record through the season has been impressive and of course their attack is still something to be very wary of. In as much as eyes might be watching to see how they will react to that defeat in the league, their set-up suggests they have the resilience and character to get back to winning ways. Whereas for Leicester the signs are that it will take a massive effort to upset the likelihood that their victory of last season is an ever fading memory.
Everton 1-2 Man City: Other than the disappointing Cup exit, things at Goodison Park are looking a little better than it did. Their recent meeting gave fans hope that things are moving in the right direction and so far they have been active in the transfer market with the significant purchase of Schneiderlin. That kind of business can have a positive effect on the club and particularly the playing staff knowing that the owner means business when it comes to strengthening the squad. In Lukaku they have a striker who on his day is still a threat to most defences. Speaking of which, the Man City defence has come under increasing scrutiny for their lapses that have lead to conceding. So the City will do well to keep a clean sheet in this game. City, however, also have the onus on them to keep up their title credentials and so nothing less than a win will do for them. Where that’s concerned they still have a troublesome set of attackers that can cause the Everton defence even more concerns than their Mancunian counterparts. Aguerro will certainly see the need to get back on the scoring business in the league. There should be ample that keeps the fans keen to see how the home side will face the Guardiola philosophy. There is something about getting tight and tough with the City lads that might give the home side some hope, but often in these affairs when it gets scrappy and ugly it’s the quality that emerges to make the difference. As that might well be the case the Citizens should feel they have enough to edge it.
Man Utd 2-2 Liverpool: This is still a big game in English football. Despite not having won the league in 27 years and only having finished in the top four once in the last five years, Liverpool are still considered to be a big club in the domestic game. Their form this season thus far has seen some look positively at them beginning to actually perform in a way that reflects the accolade of a big club. There may still be question marks over the defence, but in the last two matches there have been concerns over the attack with Liverpool failing to score in those games that have coincided with the departure of Mane to the African Cup of Nations. Now as they face their biggest rival it’s all the more crucial that they can find their scoring boots. What makes matters even more daunting for their visit to Old Trafford is the form of the home side. They have been accumulating the wins and the points and are now in legitimate striking distance of the top four itself. Another win to add to their run at the moment and especially against the old enemy would represent a massive boost to their chances and in bringing Liverpool closer to them may give them hopes of even getting the second place spot. United have not necessarily put in blistering performances, but their game management has been masterful and it’s difficult to recall a time in a match where they looked in jeopardy of losing the game. Unlike the clash at Anfield, being at home puts the onus on them to be on the front foot, yet they face a team that is more than used to that and have a pressing play that can upset their rhythm. It makes for an intriguing contest, that’s for sure.
That really is a super Sunday with Merseyside taking on Manchester and what about that tasty fixture between the last champions and the favourites to take their crown. There are some good ties this weekend and I am confident that the points tally this weekend will work in my favour.
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden
Here we are at last the end of the year is nigh. What better way to close 2016 than with a round of Premier League matches. Regarding the year in football I will probably review that early next year. For the time being let’s briefly recall the festive round of games and see how the results matched up to my predictions.
The scoring system for the games is as ever three points for a correct scoreline, just the one point for the right outcome and zero points for getting it all wrong.
Watford 2-1 Crystal Palace (0 points – actual score 1-1)
Arsenal 3-1 West Brom (1 point – actual score 1-0)
Burnley 1-1 Middlesbrough (0 points – actual score 1-0)
Chelsea 2-0 Bournemouth (1 point – actual score 3-0)
Leicester City 2-1 Everton (0 points – actual score 0-2)
Man Utd 3-0 Sunderland (1 point – actual score 3-1)
Swansea 1-2 West Ham (1 point – actual score 0-4)
Hull City 0-3 Man City (3 points)
Liverpool 3-1 Stoke City (1 point – actual score 4-1)
Southampton 1-2 Tottenham (1 point – actual score 1-4)
7 out of 10 correct outcomes again and 9 points again. It’s like Groundhog Day all over again. Not complaining though, it’s a good record overall and a decent standard from which to work. Two goals overall was the difference between the current score and 14 points with two spot on scores, but I won’t be bitter.
Now let us consider the next round of games that sees the end of the year and the start of brand new one. I know that there are another round of games scheduled to start just the day after this round finishes, but there will be a set of predictions for that too.
Hull City 0-2 Everton
Burnley 2-1 Sunderland
Chelsea 4-0 Stoke City
Leicester City 1-1 West Ham
Man Utd 3-0 Middlesbrough
Southampton 1-1 West Brom
Swansea 1-2 Bournemouth
Liverpool 3-2 Man City
Watford 0-2 Tottenham
Arsenal 3-1 Crystal Palace
Yeah things will be different for all clubs concerned, some will have matches soon after this one too. Yet I am confident that I will do well on these occasions and possibly break into double figures territory. As ever, however …
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden
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