Welcome to the 18th gameweek of the prediction game, where we’ll be looking forward to another round of Premier League football that builds up to an exciting new year.
Gameweek 17’s action saw Chelsea extend their lead at the top with a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace before West Ham United and Sunderland earned respective victories over Hull City and Watford by the same scoreline.
Middlesbrough cruised past Swansea City 3-0 and Manchester United won 2-0 at West Bromwich Albion after Stoke City recorded a 2-2 draw with Leicester City.
Manchester City got a campaign-boosting 2-1 win over Arsenal while Tottenham Hotspur also beat Burnley by the same scoreline. And to round things off, derby day victories for Southampton and Liverpool, who beat Bournemouth (3-1) and Everton (1-0) respectively.
Whether you’re hung-over or have had too much to eat (like myself) is no problem at all, as gameweek 18 follows what was hopefully a blessed Christmas day for everyone.
Not so blessed a Christmas for Alan Pardew, though. The Englishman became only the second manager to be sacked this season, with Crystal Palace sitting 17th on the league table.
Elsewhere, it was business as usual for some Premier League sides, whilst others could afford a festive rest ahead of a line-up of fixtures that takes us up to Wednesday.
That said, let’s get this build-up started by reading on to see who I fancy this week.
Liverpool vs Stoke City
With a squad boasting the potential to achieve something special and a world class coach at the helm, ’tis the season for Liverpool fans to be dreamers.
Whilst that alone is brilliant, one unwanted result could easily see the mood turn to gloom, two and the mountains could very well come crashing down. Such is the fragility of the modern day Red supporter and you wouldn’t be shocked to know that such was the condition within the fanbase when Liverpool dropped consecutive points against Bournemouth and West Ham United.
However, Jürgen Klopp’s men duly reacted with successive wins over Middlesbrough and Everton, restoring belief among the Anfield faithful and momentum within the German’s team.
Up next is two home ties, starting with the visit of Stoke City. Mark Hughes’ men boast long-term aspirations of a mid-table finish with a result at Anfield sure to boost their campaign.
Leading them will, without doubt, be Joe Allen. The former Liverpool midfielder is enjoying the best spell of his career with five goals and two assists for the Potters and is being backed to prove a point against his former club.
The importance of winning this game is inexpressible for Liverpool. Victory sets them up perfectly for the monumental visit of Manchester City, whilst maintaining their title challenge.
That said, I’m going to predict a 2-0 win for the Reds.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-0 Stoke City
Watford vs Crystal Palace
In a merciful world, losing eight of your last ten top-flight matches whilst collecting just four points, could still result in a club giving you some time to make an improvement.
However, should that unfavourable pair of statistics come along with having the lowest point-per-game average of any team in England this calendar year and even the most merciful of club chairmen could turn cruel.
Such was the case between Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish and manager Alan Pardew last week. The latter was sacked by the former, with Palace sitting 17th on the table, just one point off the relegation zone. The Eagles, who are coming off a 1-0 defeat at home to Chelsea, now travel to Vicarage Road to face Watford.
The Hornets are in need of a fresh buzz, as a 3-2 home victory over Everton was followed up by two straight defeats away from home. Manager Walter Mazzarri will be without pair Roberto Pereyra and Sebastian Prodl, who are injured but that striker Stefano Okaka is also out injured is a bigger blow.
The Italian stepped up with two goals against the Toffees and would’ve been relied upon to produce a similar performance against Palace.
Whether or not, former England coach Sam Allardyce – whom the Eagles have targetted to replace Pardew – will be in the Vicarage Road dug-out or not, I think Watford will fancy this tie as an opportunity for them to bounce back and with Palace’s defence leaking goals badly this season, I’m going to predict a 2-1 win for the home side.
Prediction: Watford 2-1 Crystal Palace
Chelsea vs AFC Bournemouth
It may sound crazy at first listen but Stamford Bridge holds good memories for Bournemouth fans.
That is because the Cherries, in what was their first ever season in the Premier League, earned a 1-0 victory over a Chelsea side led by José Mourinho, so that’s some motivation to have ahead of a return to London.
And motivation which they will need.
Eddie Howe’s men face a Chelsea side many miles away from that of last season. The Blues have been rejuvenated by new boss Antonio Conté and lead the league by six points, as they search for a 12th successive victory in the Premier League.
Conté’s side will, however, have to achieve that without the strike leadership of Diego Costa. The Spaniard leads the goalscoring charts with 13 league goals but a fifth yellow card accumulated away at Selhurst Park sees him miss out for the Blues through a suspension.
Either way, after enjoying Christmas on top of the table, Conté won’t want his or Chelsea’s good mood to be ruined so the Cherries should expect a much tougher match than the one they experienced last December.
It should be a tight affair but Chelsea have been grinding wins out as of late and I think they will make it another one here.
Prediction: Chelsea 3-0 Bournemouth
Leicester City vs Everton
A battle of two Blues going through the blues.
Everton’s defeat in the Merseyside derby against Liverpool confirmed their fourth defeat in seven league games, with the Toffees only managing to collect five points from that run.
Ronald Koeman’s men travel to champions Leicester City, who have memories of a 3-1 victory that was followed by their first ever Premier League crown back in May. The Foxes have obviously struggled to build on their big victory, with mixed results being recorded this season, but that the bad ones outweigh the good puts them fairly level with their opponents.
This is backed by the fact that both Koeman and Claudio Ranieri head into this match with major problems related to two of their notable players to deal with.
Ross Barkley’s display against Liverpool didn’t necessarily put him back in his manager’s good books. The Englishman was rather fortunate to stay on the pitch following a studs-up challenge on Jordan Henderson and wasn’t overly influential in his efforts either. Will Koeman stick or twist?
For Leicester, it’s Jamie Vardy, who has been suspended following a red card he received at Stoke, who’s the problem for Ranieri. The Italian needs to find a replacement for the striker, whose absence does little to improve the situation at the King Power Stadium.
Ever since Leicester’s promotion in 2014, games against these two have produced multiple thrills, with 17 goals being scored in only four encounters.
The champions will take courage from their unbeaten run in those four games and I think they will keep it up in this latest clash.
Prediction: Leicester City 2-1 Everton
Swansea City vs West Ham United
Following the sacking of Pardew, pressure turned the way of Bob Bradley, with the Swansea City boss becoming the bookies’ new favourite to be sacked.
The Swans are joint bottom with Hull City on twelve points, following a 3-0 defeat at Middlesbrough and given that Bradley’s only two wins have come on home ground, Boxing Day’s clash against West Ham United should perhaps be viewed as a typical cup final.
Three games unbeaten, with back to back wins and seven points collected, this should be a period of optimism for the Hammers but there remains a sense of pessimism around the side, as they’re yet to win a game convincingly, with another penalty – and the goal posts – aiding their attempts for three points against Hull.
Add to that persistent rumours linking midfielder Dimitri Payet with a January exit and it seems the storm hasn’t quite settled for Slaven Bilič’s men.
This is a match that could go either way for both these sides, given their shared desperation to walk away with three points. I’m slightly edging towards West Ham, though.
None of them have had a good season but I think when push comes to shove, the Hammers have a much firmer defence so I’m predicting that it gets them a result.
Prediction: Swansea City 1-2 West Ham United
Hull City vs Manchester City
With his squad being repeatedly depleted by injuries, Hull City boss Mike Phelan would be forgiven for itching for the January transfer window to open.
The Tigers spent Christmas day bottom of the table, having won only one of their last 15 league matches and failing to keep a single clean sheet. That sees them carry the burden of a minus 22 goal difference, as well as the reality that the side bottom on Christmas has only managed to survive three times in Premier League history.
Manchester City, on the other hand, are buoyed by back to back victories over Watford and Arsenal, with the latter renewing their title ambition under boss Pep Guardiola. Winning this match is already seen as vital for the Citizens, as doing so sets them up perfectly for another title clash at Anfield against Liverpool.
And if that’s not enough motivation, top marksman Sergio Aguero serves the last of his four-match ban and is already in contention to return to Guardiola’s line-up against the Reds.
That said, I’m predicting a win for City, who will surely have too much for Phelan’s Tigers.
Prediction: Hull City 0-2 Manchester City
Manchester United vs Sunderland
Following three straight victories, Manchester United are on something of an upward curve.
The Red Devils sit only four points outside the top-four and with winnable games against Middlesbrough and West Ham to follow, belief that José Mourinho’s men could raid the top four – and maybe even the title race – is starting to grow.
Before those games they welcome, David Moyes, the once ‘Chosen One’. The Scotsman returns to Old Trafford for the first time ever since a short spell as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor ended in 2014. Forget proving a point, Moyes has a more pressing mission to accomplish.
His Sunderland side are only a point from exiting the relegation zone and with four wins in their last seven matches, the Black Cats have a belief of their own.
The game may not be played on paper but the chances of Man United winning this one are overwhelming and I can’t disagree with them.
Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovič has scored three goals in the past two matches. I fancy the big Swede to lead his side to another win here.
Prediction: Manchester United 3-0 Sunderland
Burnley vs Middlesbrough
I don’t usually use this term (no, I never use it actually!) but Burnley must very well be the Premier League’s yo-yo club.
All their ups come from home but away from home they struggle badly and are still without a single away win all season. That makes a return to Turf Moor a much-anticipated prospect, with Sean Dyche looking to lead his side to a sixth home win of the season.
The 16th-placed side take on Middlesbrough, who sit just two places above them. Boro bounced back from their heaviest home defeat of the season to Liverpool superbly, recording their biggest home win of the season, a 3-0 thrashing of Swansea at the Riverside Stadium.
They, as well as anyone else, face a tough prospect visiting Turf Moor and I think another win is on the cards for the Clarets here.
They’ve proven this season that they’ve got goals in them with a recent 3-2 victory over Bournemouth and given that Boro don’t usually put three past sides like they did in their previous match, I can only see a Burnley win, however, wouldn’t be surprised if it ended in a draw.
Prediction: Burnley 2-0 Middlesbrough
Southampton vs Tottenham Hotspur
Following a derby day victory over Bournemouth, Southampton will want to carry the confidence received from the match at the Vitality Stadium into their home clash against Tottenham Hotspur.
Led by former manager Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs boast a confidence of their own after two straight wins at home. Off the pitch, they’ve enjoyed hearing the news of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris committing his future to the club with a new contract.
That, along with the other contract extensions that have happened over the past few months surely sets Spurs up brilliantly for upcoming seasons, allowing Pochettino to work on bringing success to White Hart Lane with his best players staying put.
In the present, though, Southampton away from home is a big challenge for them and we can surely expect an entertaining game as both these sides are gifted at scoring goals.
I’m just going to back the Lily Whites to come out on top of it, though.
Prediction: Southampton 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur
Arsenal vs West Bromwich Albion
This is already a must-win for Arsenal.
For a while, the race for the Premier League title has been considered by some to have four competitors but with the Gunners sitting nine points off Chelsea in fourth, it’s beginning to look like a three horse race, with back to back defeats dragging Arsenal into a developing top-four scramble.
Arsené Wenger’s men can ill-afford to lose this game against West Bromwich Albion, as doing so opens the door for Tottenham and Man United.
Tony Pulis leads his Baggies to the Emirates Stadium knowing his record in North London is fruitless (the Welsh manager has lost in all his eight visits to Arsenal). We all know how he will set-up his side and the onus will be on the home side to react well.
I think they will do just that as I predict a win for the Gunners.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-0 West Bromwich Albion