Welcome to the 14th gameweek of the prediction game!
This weekend sees the Premier League continue, with English clubs looking to collect the first points up for grabs, in what is the busiest calendar month in English football: December.
For fans, it’s the beginning of yet another festive season, for which the presence of unlimited football action, is the star on top of a Christmas tree but for players, it’s only the start of a gruelling schedule. Do well in this period and the rewards can be priceless. Struggle and you could be ruing it for the rest of the season.
Last week, the top of the table changed hands briefly as Liverpool returned to winning ways with a 2-0 win over Sunderland, seeing them go top. Later on, rivals Chelsea took on Tottenham Hotspur in a London derby and retained their position, with a 2-1 victory over their opponents.
Manchester City opened the weekend off with a 2-1 win away at Burnley before Swansea City and Crystal Palace played out a nine-goal thriller, the Swans winning their first game under Bob Bradley 5-4. Hull City, title-holders Leicester and Manchester United recorded respective draws against West Bromwich Albion (1-1), Middlesbrough (2-2) and West Ham United (1-1) whilst Arsenal beat Bournemouth 3-1.
And to round off the recap, there were 1-0 wins for Southampton and Stoke City over Everton and Watford respectively.
Coming off the back of a quarter-final round of League Cup fixtures in midweek, the four Premier League sides who progress to the semis will hope to shake off the threat of physical and mental fatigue, whilst their fit and ready opponents will be keen to exploit that potential weakness against them and other opponents across England’s top flight.
That said, read on to see who I’m backing this weekend.
AFC Bournemouth vs Liverpool
In what has been a season of overwhelming positives, Liverpool fans would be forgiven for feeling a little unfortunate, after the past week saw the club’s talisman Philippe Coutinho suffer an ankle injury that has ruled him out until the new year.
For the umpteenth time, it’s a big blow but as he will attest, Jürgen Klopp’s machine stops for no one.
“It’s really a team performance what we’ve created and he’s a very important part of this team absolutely, but of course we can deal with it, of course, we can handle it.”, the German told Liverpool’s official website of Coutinho’s absence.
That should give his players the confidence to keep their positive run of form going and up next on the Reds fixture list is Bournemouth.
I think thus far, Eddie Howe’s men can be considered in that mid-table bracket because they’re not going through any serious problems in terms of relegation, neither are they going to challenge for a place in Europe. Their only real problem is a lack of consistency and I think it’s one that Howe will happily accept if it means his side stays up.
Ever since their Premier League debut last season, the Cherries have lost all their matches against Liverpool, with the pair meeting twice in the league and only once in the EFL Cup.
I expect the Reds to win this latest meeting, however, key to their chances could be to avoid conceding an early goal. In each of their last three matches in all competitions, Klopp’s men have struggled to score a goal in the first half, whilst their opponents this weekend have found the back of the net in the first half of each of their own previous three matches.
If they make it four, then Liverpool could be in for another tough day in the South Coast.
Prediction: Bournemouth 1-2 Liverpool
Manchester City vs Chelsea
This is the game that everyone in that top four, not least Liverpool, will be watching closely as third-placed Manchester City clash with league leaders Chelsea.
Pep Guardiola’s men overcame an early scare at Turf Moor, coming back from a goal down to win the match thanks to a brace from Sergio Aguero. Due to Guardiola still seeking his best formula, Man City haven’t necessarily flattered their opponents with the sort of football we know they’re capable of playing. Teams like Everton and Southampton have fancied themselves against the Sky Blues this season – and usually, that never happens with any of City’s opponents.
Chelsea, on the other hand, seem to have finally received manager Antonio Conté’s message and the Italian has enjoyed a seven-game winning run as a result, which has yielded 19 goals and six clean sheets so it’s no wonder the table-toppers are, in many people’s eyes, top title contenders. Last week, the Blues reinforced that claim with a win over Tottenham and they’ll have received their due praise, however, this is a totally different challenge on its own.
With all the talent City and Chelsea are blessed with, I expect an all-out attacking display from both sides. I just think the game could be decided on who does the better job in terms of cancelling the other out in defence. Keep each other quiet at one end and make all the right noises at the other and we could have a clear winner here.
As for making a prediction, I’m going to back Man City, who I feel will be a worthy enough opponent to lock horns with Chelsea at home.
Prediction: Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea
West Ham United vs Arsenal
The number of London clubs in the Premier League has increased so much in recent seasons, that nowadays there seems to be a London derby every other weekend!
After Chelsea-Spurs last week, we go again with West Ham United, as they welcome Arsenal to the London Stadium. The Hammers are coming off an EFL Cup defeat at Manchester United and it’s probably good that they exit the competition, as their league form needs much more attention and improvement (West Ham sit 16th on the table, just a point off the relegation zone having gone four games without a win).
Arsenal head into this clash knowing that their record at the home of the Hammers is a healthy one (the Gunners haven’t lost away to their London rivals since November 2006). Manager Arsené Wenger, however, is once again dealing with a growing injury list, as midfielder Santi Cazorla and defender Mathieu Debuchy have been ruled out this week with long-term injuries. I think that safely negotiating their way through this month won’t be easy but it will be pivotal to their title hopes.
This will be another difficult test for West Ham and I’m going to back Arsenal to get another win here. I think Slaven Bilič’s men will put up a decent fight as they did against Man United but a lack of defensive prowess will eventually prove their undoing.
Prediction: West Ham United 1-3 Arsenal
Sunderland vs Leicester City
Last season Jamie Vardy scored twice in this fixture, as Leicester City beat Sunderland to move within three wins of their first Premier League title, leaving an overwhelmed Claudio Ranieri in tears.
Fast forward eight months and the champions return to the Stadium of Light in something of a crisis. The Foxes have collected only 13 points from their opening 13 games, the worst tally of any defending champion in Premier League history. Ranieri has already admitted that his side are in a relegation battle, making this match an important one all over again whilst surely putting the fairytale of last season completely to bed.
Without dwelling on their previous defeat at Liverpool, the mission to escape the relegation zone only continues for Sunderland, as David Moyes seeks only a third win in charge of the Black Cats. If their last clash against Leicester in April was a mismatch then the Foxes’ poor run of form should make this latest one an even battle and one that I’m going to back them to win.
Sunderland’s biggest problem in the early stages of the season was a tendency to allow their opponents to have it easy but ever since their first win of the season at Bournemouth, Moyes’ men have looked a more defensively resolute side – even earning a sarcastic compliment from Klopp.
If the Black Cats can retain that stubbornness at the back and some goals up front, then, funny enough, I don’t see the champions being able to live with them.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Leicester City
Crystal Palace vs Southampton
Here we go again for Crystal Palace.
Nobody could’ve predicted the nature of their defeat at Swansea City last week but yet another extended run of defeats surely doesn’t puzzle too many fans or pundits. Crisis club? Yes. Relegation-threatened? Definitely.
They meet a Southampton side brimming with confidence following their midweek League Cup victory away at Arsenal, a result that succeeded a league win over Everton last Sunday. Claude Puel has seamlessly settled into English football and is getting the best out of his side, making them a dangerous opponent for Palace to face this Saturday.
If the Saints are on it in this game then I don’t see the Eagles getting near them. My gut feeling, though, tells me they’re just going to battle it out and earn themselves a result at Selhurst Park, given the amount of pressure they’re under to get a win, so I’ll take a gamble and predict a 2-1 win for them.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 2-1 Southampton
Everton vs Manchester United
It seems that, in cup competitions, Manchester United always find the right formula that earns them results and good performances, however, in the league it’s been a different story.
The Red Devils once again slumped to a draw against West Ham at Old Trafford in the league, displaying an alarming lack of finesse in front of goal. The watching media probably love writing about him but I think José Mourinho and his touchline antics have done very little to help the situation.
His record in the league, at this stage of the season, is worse than that of previous managers Louis van Gaal and David Moyes, so it’s clear to see that the only thing that is shielding him from all the criticism is his trophy-laden past.
One man who doesn’t have such protection is Ronald Koeman. The Everton manager is under pressure as his side are without a win in three Premier League matches and this upcoming fixture against United won’t make their task to change that any easier.
Goodison Park usually puts together some exciting matches when the big boys come to town and the hope from my side is we witness another one here. I’m going to back the Toffees to hold United to another draw – though I say that believing that a win for Mourinho’s men is more likely.
Prediction: Everton 2-2 Manchester United
Stoke City vs Burnley
Stoke bounced back from a 1-0 defeat at home to Bournemouth with a 1-0 win of their own away to Watford – albeit thanks to an own goal by Heurelho Gomes.
The Potters return to the Bet365 Stadium looking to potentially book their place in the top half of the table with victory against Burnley.
I thought the Clarets played well against Man City last week but a rare off-day in defence proved to be their undoing. Sean Dyche wouldn’t have been pleased with that and they will head into this fixture knowing that they’ve got to rectify that with an improved all-round showing.
That already makes it a difficult test for Stoke. Burnley are a physical side so the Potters face a tough challenge in breaking them down. I fancy them to do just that and will predict a win for Mark Hughes’ men, who I feel are always a tough challenge themselves at home.
Prediction: Stoke City 3-1 Burnley
Middlesbrough vs Hull City
This is what the pundits call a relegation six-pointer.
Monday night sees two of the newly promoted sides lock horns, in a match that could do a lot to determine who will put in a challenge to stay up or who will languish at the bottom.
For Middlesbrough, home form is hugely important for them to achieve the former. So far, out of six games at the Riverside Stadium, they’ve only managed to collect four points, however, Boro fans will recall that their side’s performances in this period have largely been more encouraging than their results. Either way, this seventh tie against Hull offers them a chance to build on their tally.
The Tigers are no longer looking like the side they were in the beginning of the season but the pleasing part is they’ve managed to get some results over the past couple of games and will hope to keep doing so enough to see them stay out of the relegation zone.
This match could go either way but I fancy Middlesbrough to make the most of their opportunities at home by earning a win here.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 2-1 Hull City
West Bromwich Albion vs Watford
A busy week it may have been for Tony Pulis off the pitch but the West Bromwich Albion boss can be pleased with life on it, as his side sit 9th on the table, with the chance to finish the weekend 7th should they beat Watford and other results go their way.
Last season, Hornets ‘keeper Gomes was a hero when these two sides met, saving two penalties on Watford’s way to a 1-0 win at the Hawthorns. This season, the Brazilian’s form has been patchy and as much as boss Walter Mazzarri will rely on him again for this match, Pulis will be advising his players to give him a hard time, particularly in set-piece situations, where we know they can be so dangerous.
Again, I expect a typically physical encounter between these two sides and I’m going to back West Brom to come out on top. The Baggies’ home form has really improved this season, with their last match at the Hawthorns a 4-0 victory over Burnley.
I think we’ll witness another convincing win from them in this match.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 2-0 Watford
Tottenham Hotspur vs Swansea City
Such is the cruelty of the Premier League that so often a manager’s first win in charge has to be followed by a daunting trip to a top side.
This is the challenge that confronts Bob Bradley, who witnessed his side land the final blow against Crystal Palace to win the match by the odd goal in nine. Now, the Swans are going to have to retain that battling spirit as Tottenham are up next on their fixture list.
Spurs lost their unbeaten record in the Premier League last week against Chelsea and would’ve been disappointed to do so given the fact that they performed so well in the first half. A return to White Hart Lane offers a good opportunity for them to put that result behind them and I think they duly will with a win.
Swansea will rightly show some ambition and determination to not be beaten but looking at the quality on Spurs’ side, I think it’s clear they will just have too much for them.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Swansea City