To the domestic football fan, the Premier League enthusiast and the Liverpool FC fanatic: if you’re reading this, here’s to you for surviving another dreaded two weeks without high-octane football action and here’s an even bigger cheers to the fact that it was the last international break of the year, paving the way for unlimited football action that begins here with the 12th gameweek of the prediction game.
Gameweek 11 was headlined by our very own Liverpool, with the Reds making light work of Watford with a rousing 6-1 victory to see them top the Premier League table. Prior to that, the most recent battle of North London ended in a 1-1 draw as Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur shared the spoils at the Emirates, Manchester City dropped points at home to Middlesbrough with the same scoreline before Chelsea thrashed Everton 5-0.
Bottom club Sunderland recorded their first win of the season with a 2-1 win at Bournemouth. Hull City and Manchester United returned to winning ways with respective wins over Southampton (2-1) and Swansea City (3-1), whilst Burnley earned a last-gasp 3-2 victory over Crystal Palace. Elsewhere in England’s top flight, West Ham United drew 1-1 with Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion closed the weekend off with a 2-1 victory over champions Leicester.
Heading into this weekend, there’s a growing sense that every single match from here on out is vital as it can determine whether a team stays on top or languishes at the bottom. That can only mean that England’s top-flight sides will turn it on this weekend, putting a bit of extra pressure on myself and many other predictors to foretell with caution.
With that said, let us begin that difficult task with a huge trip to the South Coast.
Southampton vs Liverpool
Liverpool’s early challenge for the title continues with a tricky test against Southampton this Saturday, with the Reds looking to go a ninth Premier League game unbeaten and retain their place at the top.
Goalkeeper Loris Karius most-recently told Liverpoolfc.com, “We are at the top now and we don’t want to give it away after just one game.
“That’s the biggest aim we have – to stay there. That’s motivation enough. That’s our big goal, to stay up there.”
That motivation and drive to remain top will be integral in ensuring that Jurgen Klopp’s side remain a tough side to contend with but even more important will be the consistency that they’ve so far displayed in their performances. Keeping their standards up in attack as well as improving them in defence will, particularly in this match, determine how realistic a push for the league title is for the Reds.
Though Southampton already know of the difficult task that approaches them in this Liverpool team, the Saints would be excused for feeling positive towards it because – as Karius went on to mention in that interview – they have a well-balanced team and have the ability to beat anyone on their day. I think the likes of defenders Jose Fonte, Virgil van Dijk and forwards Charlie Austin and Nathan Redmond will be vital for their chances in this match because when they’re having a productive day, the Saints surely flourish.
And I’m going to back them to push Liverpool hard in this match, before predicting that the Reds will continue their winning run – which is increasingly looking like an unstoppable train at the moment. Whilst the Saints’ key players have already been mentioned, the front-three of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Saint-turned-sinner (if you’ll excuse the pun) Sadio Mane are on excellent form and a goal/assist can be expected out of either one of the trio this Saturday.
Prediction: Southampton 1-4 Liverpool
Manchester United vs Arsenal
The Premier League’s marketing campaign for this match portrays it as a battle of fire versus fire and I couldn’t agree more.
This fixture has had an abundance of fiery moments, none more so than Van Nistelrooy versus Keown and co. I look at the current crop of players on both sides and I wonder: Can these lads produce that? I really doubt it (but the two men on the sidelines can!)
Either way, that shouldn’t be received as a criticism of these two sides because you may not witness any epic confrontations on Saturday but what you can expect is a high quality, end-to-end football (or at least I hope).
Sixth-placed Manchester United face another strong test of their wills in this campaign and so does Arsenal, who sit fourth. The past two weeks have almost been karma for Jose Mourinho, who questioned his players’ commitment following their win in South Wales. The former Real Madrid boss will be without at least seven players on Saturday, two of which include centre-back pairing Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling, due to injury. To make matters worse, maverick striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic will sit the match out through a suspension after he picked up a fifth yellow card against Swansea.
If Arsenal are to convince anyone of their title credentials this season then winning this fixture and safely negotiating their way through November (a month which the Gunners hold their worst points per game ratio of 1.59 points per match since 1996) is pivotal. With strike pair Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez declaring themselves fit for this encounter, boss Arsene Wenger will be hoping that his medical department agrees with the duo, as they are key players for Arsenal’s chances.
I would love to see an open, free-flowing attacking display from both sides but my gut feeling tells me Mourinho will deny both myself and anybody else who shares the same hopes of that. I think Man United will again put ten men behind the ball and look to limit Arsenal’s creative threat. Going forward, they’ll rely on set-pieces and counter-attacking moves to nick a goal or two – whether that appeases the Old Trafford crowd, I don’t know but I think it will earn them a result.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal
Tottenham Hotspur vs West Ham United
Ever since a thrilling 2-0 victory over Manchester City in October, Tottenham Hotspur are winless in seven games in all competitions, four of which have been in the Premier League. Although they remain unbeaten in the league, it must be said that their apparent inability to kill-off games, instead recording draws, counts against them in the title race.
Add to that to two weeks that has been filled with noises about striker Harry Kane and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris apparently failing to come to an agreement on the wage terms for their new contracts and both Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs chairman Daniel Levy have some damage control to do.
West Ham, on the other hand, visit White Hart Lane looking to return to winning ways, with manager Slaven Bilic looking to silence a few noises himself regarding star midfielder Dimitri Payet. This is, of course, a London derby so Hammers fans will be hoping their side turn up in this match but with only one league win there in their last 10 fixtures, it’s sure to be a tough assignment.
I think that record, plus their recent run of form, will play a key part in seeing Spurs win this one. I’m going to predict that the Lily Whites take the three points as there’s no better match to bounce back in than a derby.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 West Ham United
Everton vs Swansea City
So, how do you dig yourself a grave that goes deeper than six feet below ground as manager of Everton?
Well, you simply compliment Liverpool as genuine title challengers before insisting that your best player may have to leave the club to fulfil his full potential – that’s how!
Toffees boss Ronald Koeman executed the move to perfection over the international break, making the Goodison Park faithful a little bitter (loved that!). The Dutchman may have tried to clear it up by pointing the finger at media sensationalism this week, but the best way to make up for it will simply be to bounce back from a 5-0 mauling at Chelsea with a home win against Premier League crisis-club Swansea City – although I do wonder if we should call a hearse for him if Liverpool win the title.
Okay, jokes aside (I’m trying my best to get serious here!) Swansea City could find themselves bottom if they lose this fixture and other results don’t go in their favour. Thus far, the appointment of Bob Bradley hasn’t made a difference in terms of results but the Welsh club will hope that the little changes the American is making on the inside can start reflecting out but as far as this fixture in Merseyside goes, I think we’re looking at an Everton win.
I think their attacking talent will prove too much for Swansea’s frail-looking defence.
Prediction: Everton 3-0 Swansea City
Sunderland vs Hull City
This is, as initially built up, a massive fixture for both Sunderland and Hull, who sit 20th and 18th respectively.
The Tigers returned to winning ways before the break with a win over Southampton but hit a new low over the two-week period by losing two of their first team strikers in Abel Hernandez and Will Keane to injuries – difficult times for Mike Phelan’s men.
Sunderland can finally rely on a first win of the season to boost their confidence and I can imagine that David Moyes will be like a dragon spitting flames of motivation on Saturday, as a win could take them off the bottom, one small step closer to lifting themselves out of the relegation zone. I think they’ll need to approach this match with a proactive mentality, rather than a reactive one because a stable back-line plus goals from Jermaine Defoe will really help their cause for a first successive win in the Premier League this season.
The same could be said of Hull City’s defence plus the importance of striker Dieumerci Mbokani stepping up to the plate, alongside someone I consider to be Hull’s talisman, Robert Snodgrass, cannot be fully expressed.
I’m going to back the Black Cats to win this battle of the league’s cats. The Tigers will be just as keen to grab the headlines but I think Sunderland’s determination, that is, a burning desire to not fall back into mediocrity, will boost them hugely.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Hull City
Crystal Palace vs Manchester City
The task goes no farther than winning for third-placed Manchester City in this match, that’s the main requirement for all of the league’s top four to stay in this early title race, win or bust!
Looking at their last few results compared to their unbeaten start to the season, it’s clear to see that they, just like any of the top sides, aren’t necessarily going to walk to the title. They face just as tough a battle as anyone else and with the level of quality in their side, they’re well capable of putting up a strong fight.
Former Everton captain Phil Neville expressed the opinion that Crystal Palace are an overrated side, on Thursday’s episode of Premier League television’s Football Today show. I honestly couldn’t agree with him more – and trust me, I don’t usually agree with much either of the Neville brothers say – I just think that their tendency to go on some decent winning runs fills observers with a little too much optimism and reality usually sets in when they lose four on the spin, as they’ve done ever since a 1-1 draw against Everton in September.
I can’t see them winning this match either. On their day the Eagles can put sides like City to the sword but they’re an inconsistent side and I think that Pep Guardiola’s men should and will take full advantage of that in this clash at Selhurst Park.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-3 Manchester City
Watford vs Leicester City
Hornets’ manager Walter Mazzarri called for his side to show their anger, as they look to put a 6-1 defeat at the hands of Liverpool completely behind them, against champions Leicester City.
In all honesty, Watford were nowhere near the Reds at Anfield, Klopp’s side were just too good and now it’s all about keeping in mind the qualities that their squad possesses and displaying them again in this fixture.
I think the same should be demanded of Leicester. Premier League sides have almost bullied them this season and when you’re the title-holders, you can’t let that happen. I think they need to show a bit more aggression in their desire to win a match and their refusal to lose. Sure, they may not play as they did last season but a show of ruthlessness wouldn’t go amiss.
I think we’ll witness a very physical but aesthetically pleasing match between these two. Last season the Foxes won a similar battle by a single goal at Vicarage Road and if theirs and Watford’s attackers are on it in this match, we’ll certainly see more goals scored, it’s just a matter of which defence can hold it together.
Prediction: Watford 2-2 Leicester City
Middlesbrough vs Chelsea
People are starting to sit-up and pay a bit more attention to Middlesbrough when they come up against top sides, and rightly so.
In their respective meetings against Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester City, the Riverside club have conceded just three goals. When you consider the fact that two of those fixtures were away from home as well as the free-scoring nature of the aforementioned trio, it’s certainly an impressive record for a newly promoted side. Manager Aitor Karanka has set his side up to be a wall in defence and second-placed Chelsea are the next top side attempting to break them down.
The Blues have been excellently ruthless as of late, rightly earning plaudits for their performances. The form of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa has obviously been massive for them but it’s the collective endeavour that has led them in the right direction and which they will hope will continue to do so as the season progresses.
On paper, it looks straightforward, but how does the old cliche go, again? The game is not played on paper, right?
Expect another physical display by Middlesbrough and as much as I think it can earn them a decent result, I am going to take a gamble in backing the Blues to just pull through with the three points.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 1-2 Chelsea
Stoke City vs AFC Bournemouth
After a terribly slow start to the season, Stoke City have impressively recorded five games unbeaten (three wins, two draws).
The Potters’ combination of strong, improved defensive performances plus the new-found form of players the likes of Wilfried Bony and Joe Allen has been key to their improved form and a match at the Bet365 Stadium versus Bournemouth provides them with a good opportunity to continue their good run.
I think Bournemouth were left shell-shocked by a defeat to Sunderland last week, especially given the amount of goal-scoring chances they created (22 shots with 7 on target). Being clinical in front of goal is of a high degree of importance in this league, as failing to take your chances can easily come back to haunt you and when you consider the attacking nature of this Cherries side, it’s clear that improvement in that area can earn them some decent results.
For this match, though, I just see Stoke edging out a result. It may be a close contest, however, and I wouldn’t be surprised by a draw.
Prediction: Stoke City 2-1 Bournemouth
West Bromwich Albion vs Burnley
This is the battle of the physical sides.
Burnley sit ninth behind Watford on 14 points. They’ve managed to string together a decent run of form and confidence is surely flowing through Sean Dyche’s men, who have added goals to their game.
West Brom are coming off a big victory for them at the home of the champions Leicester, which was a good way to bounce back from two straight defeats against Liverpool and Man City. They’ll be keen to carry that form into this match but I think Tony Pulis’ men can expect a tough clash here.
Burnley, like the Baggies, have made themselves a tough side to contend with and it will be interesting to see both sides trade blows in this encounter. I’m going to predict a tight draw as I find it a little hard to separate them.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Burnley