Following another entertaining round of fixtures that kept the busy December schedule progressing in midweek, the Premier League moves on to round 17, with gameweek 17 of the prediction game making it’s way to you.
Tuesday night saw Everton record a big 2-1 win over Arsenal and Bournemouth beat Leicester City 1-0.
A busy Wednesday night then saw Liverpool return to winning ways, beating Middlesbrough 3-0. League leaders Chelsea extended their lead at the top, winning 1-0 away to Sunderland, whilst West Ham United only got past Burnley with the same scoreline. Free-scoring West Bromwich Albion defeated Swansea City 3-1, Manchester City beat Watford 2-0 and neighbours Manchester United left it late to win 2-1 at Crystal Palace.
Elsewhere Stoke City drew a blank at home to Southampton while Tottenham Hotspur made light work of Hull City, beating the Tigers 3-0.
With gameweek 17 leading us straight to Christmas, Rousing the Kop would like to wish all its readers a happy and blessed one. Stay safe and celebrate responsibly ahead of a Boxing Day line-up of fixtures.
For now, though, it’s time to focus on this weekend, so read on to see who I’m tipping this time round.
Everton vs Liverpool
It’s been described as the occasion that could ruin Christmas in half of Merseyside’s households on Monday night and how couldn’t it, when one half believes that Santa Claus comes dressed in red whilst the other decorate their Christmas trees in blue?
Liverpool head into this match having beaten Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium, a result that took them to second place behind Chelsea on the Premier League table. Jürgen Klopp’s men had endured a frustrating two weeks before that, failing to take full points from winnable games against Bournemouth and West Ham United, with young goalkeeper Loris Karius shouldering the blame for each result.
In came deputy ‘keeper Simon Mignolet on Wednesday night then and the Belgian not only impressed but kept a clean sheet, a performance which should spread renewed confidence around the entire Reds team ahead of the Merseyside derby.
Speaking of renewed confidence, Everton brought to an end a five-game winless run on Tuesday, beating Arsenal 2-1 under the Goodison Park floodlights. The manner of the win, a come-from-behind victory, would’ve been well received by the Toffees faithful but against Liverpool, Ronald Koeman will be hoping that his side dispose of a bad habit they seem to have picked up over the past few weeks.
Of Everton’s last five matches, four have seen the Toffees concede the first goal in the first half of each, with their midweek clash against the Gunners representing the only one they’ve won despite that. Against a Reds side used to making lightning quick starts, particularly in games of this calibre, that could be their undoing.
Table position, squad quality, injury problems and of course form all go out the window for this occasion. Both sides will be fired up for the battle and with time on both their sides, both managers will be preparing their teams for victory.
Whether you call it biased or fair, I couldn’t really be bothered, I’m going for a Liverpool win!
Prediction: Everton 1-2 Liverpool
Manchester City vs Arsenal
Before Monday’s big battle on Merseyside, there’s an equally important title clash between fourth-placed Manchester City and third-placed Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium.
Make no qualms about it, Arsenal will be kicking themselves for not heading into this fixture still three points behind Chelsea and three ahead of Liverpool. A defeat at Goodison Park was never going to maintain supporters’ belief in their title bid and their performance and result against City will either completely kill it or reignite it.
City themselves need to reignite something within their fans, who – barring Wednesday’s win over Watford – couldn’t enjoy a home win in the league ever since September.
The Citizens would’ve already marked this a must-win, as victory would take them up to second, for the time-being. Which starting eleven will turn up, no one knows and that was only made worse by midfielder Ilkay Gündogan’s injury against Watford but boss Pep Guardiola has options, the question is, are they good enough?
Matches against these two usually produce goals and winners (last season, a combined seven goals were scored in two league games between City and Arsenal).
We will surely witness more in this latest clash and funnilyy enough, I find it difficult to separate them. My initial thought was 2-2 but I’m going to take a massive gamble and predict a 3-2 victory for Arsenal.
Man City have really disappointed me in the big matches this season. I backed them against all of Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Leicester City and they went away with a whopping on each occasion.
Prediction: Manchester City 2-3 Arsenal
AFC Bournemouth vs Southampton
With the weekend boasting some high profile games, the South Coast derby could perhaps be forgiven for going under the radar, as level on points Bournemouth and Southampton look to overtake each other on the table.
The Saints sit in 9th place, with only goal difference separating them from their South Coast neighbours, who sit in 10th.
I dub this a battle of two sides with lofty ambitions.
With Southampton highlighting their established status by stepping up to the Europa League this season, Bournemouth didn’t have to look too far to find the motivation to improve on their own prospects.
In what is only their second season in the Premier League, the Cherries are on the up under manager Eddie Howe, who has led them to successive home victories over Liverpool and title holders Leicester City. Sure, they’re nowhere near the European places but the fact that they’re not being discussed as relegation candidates alone is a fitting Christmas present for any Cherries fan.
If there’s one thing they share in common with their rivals, it’s inconsistency. The Saints have failed to win successive league matches ever since September, a record that could harm their ambition to return to Europe next season if not improved upon.
Last season, both of these sides won each of their meetings, with the Cherries winning 2-0 at home before the Saints got revenge at Saint Mary’s with the same scoreline. Bournemouth’s form has been dodgy but I fancy them to take motivation from their last two games at the Vitality Stadium and give us another thrilling afternoon.
Prediction: Bournemouth 3-1 Southampton
West Bromwich Albion vs Manchester United
Rewind to a season or two ago and the statement ‘West Bromwich Albion are a tough prospect’ would’ve surely been one-dimensional, as the Baggies were famed only for a dogged physical approach that somehow did the trick in keeping them up.
This season, however, has seen a transformation occur under manager Tony Pulis. West Brom no longer bully their way to victory, they come out and play. In their last six games, the side from Birmingham have scored 13 goals, failing to win only two of those matches.
Key to their good run has been striker Salomon Rondon. The Venezuelan netted a hat-trick against Swansea in mid-week, taking his season tally to seven goals. It seems simple. Keep delivering balls into the box with accuracy and the big man won’t let you down.
The grass is not as greener on the other side but it seems like Manchester United are slowly getting there. A midweek win over Crystal Palace had José Mourinho giving a few Klopp-hugs (not that he’s any good at them, though) as the 2-1 result at Selhurst Park made it two wins on the bounce. The Portuguese will surely be anticipating a third but Red Devils be warned: West Brom are no push-overs, as a 2-1 defeat in United’s last visit to the Hawthorns proved.
I honestly think that this one can go either way. Man United are obviously looking to get the wheel rolling but you can rule out West Brom at home at your own peril. I’m going to gamble again, though, and predict a win for United.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Manchester United
Middlesbrough vs Swansea City
In what has been an altogether terrible run of form, Swansea City have managed a couple of wins in between, the last of which was a 3-0 win over Sunderland a week ago.
I think what has undone them the most – besides a complete lack of quality – is their inability to put any sort of good run together. For instance, following a 5-4 win over Crystal Palace, they were thrashed 5-0 at Tottenham Hotspur and their win over Sunderland was followed by a 3-1 defeat at the Hawthorns.
Their opponents Middlesbrough, meanwhile, are coming off a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Liverpool. When you consider the fact that very few sides have come to the Riverside Stadium and easily put two or three past them, plenty of credit has to be given to Liverpool. They were well figured out and with Aitor Karanka’s men edging near the relegation zone, plenty of caution must be taken against sides who will attempt to do the same.
Swansea will be one of them. Whatever works for Bob Bradley’s men they will take but I must say, I fancy Boro to bounce back in front of the Riverside crowd.
Never a side for huge scorelines, the newly-promoted side will likely score two goals, which should be enough if they defend better than they did on Wednesday night.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 2-0 Swansea City
Sunderland vs Watford
Sunderland continued an up-down spell at the bottom of the table with a defeat against Chelsea in midweek.
Put that behind them and a home match against Watford offers them yet another opportunity to bridge the gap between 20th and 17th (only four points separate the bottom-placed Black Cats and Middlesbrough in 17th).
Looking at their upcoming fixtures, I think it’s going to be hard for them to put a decent run together because right after Watford comes a Boxing Day trip to Old Trafford. Burnley provides another winning opportunity for them but only two days later the Tyne-side club host Liverpool so, unless results elsewhere go their way – or they unbelievably win four out of four – Sunderland could still be in the relegation zone come the new year.
Either way, they host a Watford side fresh off a 2-0 loss at Man City and although they will be a difficult opponent for Sunderland, I actually expect the Black Cats to get something out of this match.
Every game is a big game when you’re at the bottom, the situation is full of pressure so I’m going to predict that Sunderland respond to it by edging out a result.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Watford
Crystal Palace vs Chelsea
Chelsea’s exceptional run of form sees them hold a six-point lead at the top of the table, meaning Antonio Conté’s men will spend Christmas on top.
Every single time that has happened in their history, the Blues have gone on to win the title so expect a determination to push on, as they open the weekend’s football at Selhurst Park.
Crystal Palace’s dodgy run of form continued with a defeat against Manchester United. In the same way that the Eagles gave United a run for their money, I think they will push Chelsea hard as well in this match but the question is, how long can their defence withstand the pressure and can their attack break open a Blues defence that has kept clean sheet after clean sheet?
I have my doubts and that can only mean I expect a win for Conté’s men, who will surely have too much for Palace.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 0-2 Chelsea
West Ham United vs Hull City
The look on Slaven Bilič’s face following the full-time whistle at the London Stadium on Wednesday night told us everything we need to know: these are desperate times for West Ham United.
Having begun their season poorly, the Hammers are looking to pull themselves out of the slump and any points come as a huge relief.
They will be looking to build on that 1-0 win over Burnley this Saturday as they host a beleaguered Hull City. Theirs is also a desperate situation: no wins in five matches and 13 goals conceded in that run puts them in 19th, with experts labelling them as relegation favourites.
Mike Phelan would probably snatch a draw off your hand right now, the way things are going but I think this is a three points too precious for West Ham to give away, even though their home record is rather poor.
Prediction: West Ham United 2-0 Hull City
Tottenham Hotspur vs Burnley
I can only see another big Tottenham Hotspur win in this one.
They “can’t win a game away from home for toffee”, Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson usually says of Burnley and I think that’s mainly because Sean Dyche adopts a defensively compact and less adventurous approach away from Turf Moor and rightly so because the Clarets would easily be torn apart if they, for instance, went to Old Trafford and tried to beat Man United at their own game.
The fact approach hasn’t worked for them still is a big challenge for Dyche and against a free-scoring Spurs side looking to keep pressure on that top four, I can’t see things changing for them.
That said, I’m going to predict that the Lily Whites continue a good run of form at home with another win.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Burnley
Stoke City vs Leicester City
Many, including myself, were convinced that champions Leicester City had finally turned the corner with that victory over Manchester City but a 1-0 defeat followed at Bournemouth and they’re back to square one.
A draw at home to Southampton wasn’t such a bad result for Stoke, who remain in a safe position in 12th. Mark Hughes’ men have ambitions of finishing higher in mid-table, though, and a return to the Bet365 Stadium surely offers them a good opportunity to make their way up the table with a win.
They will have to do it without striker Marko Arnautovič, however, who was sent off for a reckless challenge in midweek. On his day, he can be a super player for Hughes and the side isn’t necessarily stronger without him. Either way, I think that side can still earn a victory over the champions this Saturday.
I’m backing Stoke to win this one.
Prediction: Stoke City 2-1 Leicester City