Martin King brings you the last gameweek prediction piece for 2016.
Whether you’re having a wild night out with friends, simple dinner with family, a romantic evening-for-two or even keeping up with the popular fireworks tradition, it’s fair to say that everyone already has an idea of the last thing they’re going to do in 2016.
Amidst all of that, though, will be a continuing schedule that serves both fans and 16 English football clubs with one final round of Premier League action and to lead us into that round, I welcome you to the 19th gameweek of the prediction game!
An entertaining gameweek 18, that only ended 48-hours ago, began on Monday when Watford and Crystal Palace played to a 1-1 draw. London neighbours Chelsea recorded a 12th consecutive league win, beating Bournemouth 3-0, whilst Arsenal left it late to beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0.
West Ham United cruised to a 4-1 victory at Swansea City, Burnley beat Middlesbrough 1-0 while Manchester United won 3-1 against Sunderland.
Liverpool came from behind to beat Stoke City 4-1 and there were away wins for Everton, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, who beat Leicester (2-0), Hull (3-0) and Southampton (4-1) respectively.
The post-Christmas action, unfortunately, also saw the third managerial sacking take place, as Swansea parted ways with Bob Bradley. Either way, the show goes on and we can start our build-up to it by playing the final prediction round of the year.
So, for one last time in 2016, read on to see who I fancy this time round.
Liverpool vs Manchester City
“Confidence is not a problem of the team at the moment. We know about our quality.”
So says Jürgen Klopp, a man who never shies away from a big battle.
For the most part of his career, the Liverpool manager has had to confront teams, managers and footballing circumstances that look much greater than both him and his ability but unfancied, unequipped and against all odds, Klopp’s Davids have always risen to the challenge of Goliath.
Enter Manchester City. Twice Premier League title-holders, boosted by an abundance of riches that have helped them put together not only one of the best squads in England but become of the biggest clubs in the world.
Place, at the forefront of that, Pep Guardiola, serial domestic and continental trophy winner with two of the world’s best sides and the odds not only suggest Manchester City may win both this match and the Premier League title, they demand them to.
However, with City sitting third on the table due to a number of unwanted results, this league has already proven to Guardiola that it simply doesn’t play by the odds and a trip to Anfield, where a Liverpool side that come into this match as underdogs lie in wait, could either reaffirm that fact or brush it aside.
Either way, one can expect a monumental affair, wherein absolutely anything can happen.
I fancy Liverpool to win it, given the Reds’ home advantage but I would advice you to place no faith in my scoreline because like I said, anything can happen. This is another 5-4 waiting to happen in this league, for all we know!
Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 Manchester City
Hull City vs Everton
Hull City may have spent Christmas Day at the bottom of the table, following that up with a Boxing Day defeat at the hands of Manchester City but in all fairness, the situation is not all that hopeless.
The Tigers are 20th with only twelve points but they’re only back-to-back wins away from exiting the relegation zone, as only four points separate them and 17th placed Crystal Palace. That said, Mike Phelan needs to find a rare winning formula, or else the little hope they’ve got will surely diminish.
Everton, meanwhile, bounced back from their Merseyside derby heartbreak by winning at the home of the champions. It can’t be easy to keep confidence and momentum levels up in a squad without consistency and consistency is what Ronald Koeman’s men need.
Not since the early months of the season have they recorded successive wins in the league, the Toffees have rather been plagued by mixed results but this match against a struggling side offers them a good chance to fix that.
Hull, on their day. are a stubborn side and will, in this match, try to be tough to beat first and foremost. But can the Tigers trouble Everton going forward?
I don’t think so, but I do believe that Everton can trouble them so I’m predicting a Friday night win for the Merseysiders.
Prediction: Hull City 0-3 Everton
Manchester United vs Middlesbrough
With victories piling up and goals coming in full flow, confidence has replaced frustration at Manchester United.
The Red Devils’ current intentions are clear: make it to the top four. With four straight wins to back them and another winnable home match against Middlesbrough to follow, it could only be a matter of time before José Mourinho leads his side to a solid challenge for a place in Europe.
To be fair, it would be disrespectfully harsh to call this one a straight-forward affair, why should we when Boro have, this season, taken points away from both the Etihad and Emirates Stadium?
To add Old Trafford to their list of big away points would be brilliant for them and I think it’s a huge matter of retaining their defensive toughness, though even that doesn’t make it an easy task for them.
It’s sure to be dubbed master versus apprentice, as Mourinho welcomes a former member of his coaching staff in Aitor Karanka. Victory is a big ask for the latter, so I’m going to back Mourinho to come out on top.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 Middlesbrough
Swansea City vs AFC Bournemouth
I will be honest in saying I don’t follow Swansea City too closely but for club chairman Hew Jenkins, this must be the worst period ever in his spell with the club in the Premier League.
It’s funny because ever since their promotion in 2011, Jenkins has had a brilliant track record in terms of hiring managers. From Brendan Rodgers (love him or hate him Liverpool lads), to Michael Laudrup to Garry Monk, the Welsh club has enjoyed some good times under these great managerial talents but ever since Monk’s departure, Francesco Guidolin has followed as well as, now sacked, Bob Bradley.
When you compare them two to the former trio – with all due respect – there seems a great drop in standards because the former trio brought some excitement to fans and the players bought into their respective philosophies, never mind how each spell ended. Can the same be said of Guidolin and Bradley? Sadly not, in my opinion.
That said, both Jenkins and the club’s American investors surely need to get it right this time, as Bournemouth come to South Wales.
I’d like to think that with Swansea at home, the Cherries can be exploited defensively because some of the goals they give away at times are just poor but having said that, Eddie Howe’s men are well capable of tearing Alan Curtis’ men apart in attack as well and I’m going to back them to get a result here.
Prediction: Swansea City 1-2 Bournemouth
Chelsea vs Stoke City
After a largely difficult Tuesday evening at Anfield, Stoke City’s task grows from difficult to near impossible.
The Potters visit Stamford Bridge on New Year’s Eve to face a Chelsea side growing stronger and stronger in their pursuit of the Premier League title. The Blues are winning games in all kinds of impressive ways and adding consistent clean sheets to each display, anybody who knows how to stop them, step up and do so now!
Striker Diego Costa will be returning from a yellow card suspension in this match and knowing Costa like we do, the Spaniard will be eager to get back in the goals and preserve his top-goal scorer status. Add to that another returnee in midfielder N’golo Kanté and the Blues will surely be too strong for Stoke.
After their defensive horror show against Liverpool, I can only see that 13th consecutive win for Chelsea coming here.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Stoke City
Arsenal vs Crystal Palace
Staying in London but switching to the Emirates, Arsenal host Crystal Palace after only just getting past West Bromwich Albion in midweek to keep their place in the top four.
With Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United winning as well, pressure is on the Gunners to keep winning their matches, as their rivals will keep looking to bridge the points gap keeping them in fourth place.
In terms of the game itself, I think we’ll witness another possession based display from them but as was the case on Monday, the onus lies on them to find the back of the net as Palace, now under the leadership of Sam Allardyce, will set-up defensively compact whilst looking to utilize the pace of wingers Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha on the counter-attack.
Whether that will be enough to get them a result, I’m not sure so I’m going to back Arsenal to make it successive wins with the backing of the Emirates crowd.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Crystal Palace
Burnley vs Sunderland
Another home win? Surely!
It’s becoming a good habit for Burnley this. As a newly-promoted team struggling away from home and yet still harbouring belief they can stay up, making the most of their home games is ideal.
For Sunderland, a win from any place will do. They were stubborn and tough to beat for a while against Man United but just couldn’t hang on. If the Black Cats can combine both that and some quality in midfield and up-front (particularly with the January transfer window nearly upon us) they’d give themselves much better chances of winning games.
I think Sean Dyche would’ve been glad to have top striker André Grey back firing last week. I think he will play a key role between now and the end of the season and I fancy his side to make it back to back home wins.
Not only are Burnley able to throw men behind the ball in defence, nowadays at Turf Moor, they’re not afraid to throw men forward. So, I think that will help them massively in winning this match.
Prediction: Burnley 2-1 Sunderland
Leicester City vs West Ham United
If any Hammers fans weren’t convinced with West Ham United’s performances, in the 1-0 home victories over Burnley and Hull City, then a 4-1 win over sorry Swansea should’ve changed that, bringing a much-needed confidence boost to the London side.
There were a number of positives to take from that game, one of them being the respective returns of strikers Andy Caroll and André Ayew to the score-sheet. The duo had been on the sidelines due to long-term injuries and manager Slaven Bilič will already know there’s nothing that motivates a striker better than netting a goal, so he will surely stick with the pair and hope they keep producing for this match.
As for their opponents, Leicester City, the situation has surely reached desperation level now. At the start of the season, a place in mid-table was a realistic and good aim but three points above the relegation zone ahead of the new year is simply below-average and they need to start putting together some winning runs if they’re going to avoid a relegation dog-fight.
Unfortunately, with more than a couple of their African players heading away on international duty come January, that task may be made much harder than it sounds. ‘Tinkerman’ Ranieri will certainly have to live up to his name.
Either way, I thought the Foxes would get something out of their clash against Everton only to be disappointed. West Ham head into the King Power Stadium with renewed belief so I’m going to just back them to win this one.
Prediction: Leicester City 1-2 West Ham United
Watford vs Tottenham Hotspur
The top half of the Premier League table is so congested that even with successive wins and good performances, Tottenham Hotspur just cannot afford to rest on their laurels.
Lying just three points in pursuit behind them are Man United, Arsenal in front of them are looking to build a wider gap so – not to assume that this league is easy on anyone – but Spurs are one of the teams that have it the hardest, they’ve just got to keep going!
Watford, meanwhile, are coming off a draw with Crystal Palace, an occasion that saw striker and captain Troy Deeney finally score his long-awaited 100th goal for the club. Pressure’s off now for the Englishman, he can concentrate on his game and being the all-rounder that he is for the team, boss Walter Mazzarri will surely see his side benefit from that.
Vicarage Road is never an easy place to visit. I just think it’s another familiar case of ‘Which Watford side will turn up’ that will determine the winner of this match.
Spurs, though, have a firing Harry Kane (with no reference to the shot that landed in Portsmouth from Saint Mary’s on Wednesday night) and a resilient squad backed by a strong defence. They just force my hand on this prediction.
Prediction: Watford 1-3 Tottenham Hotspur
Southampton vs West Bromwich Albion
Southampton welcome West Bromwich Albion to Saint Mary’s on New Year’s Eve looking to release their frustration from losing in a match which they had a firm grip on, before letting go.
Their match against Tottenham Hotspur had barely started on Wednesday night, when a much-talked about Virgil van Dijk rose highest to give them the lead but to go on and lose the match 4-1 in the manner they did wouldn’t have set well with the South Coast faithful.
After a 3-1 home victory at home to Swansea City, West Brom are going through what many would consider an unlucky spell. The Baggies have lost in games against Man United and Arsenal ever since that win but when you analyse the broader picture, they didn’t at all play that bad. It’s a common thing in the Premier League: no matter the quality of performance, it’s always the smaller margins that can build you up or let you down and at the moment those are letting them down, particularly at the back.
Take, for instance, the three goals they’ve conceded in the past two games. Two of them are respective headers by Zlatan Ibrahimovič and Olivier Giroud. When you take into account how good a team West Brom are aerially, those two goals come as disappointments. Add to that Ibrahimovič’s deflected second against them at the Hawthorns and that pretty much sums up their luck.
I’m going to back them to sort those small margins out in the long-term but in the short term I think Southampton will expect much better from themselves. I’m predicting a close win for the Saints.
Prediction: Southampton 2-1 West Bromwich Albion