Martin King discusses the 20th round of Premier League fixtures mere days after the last.
Sunderland vs Liverpool
Liverpool have barely had enough time to reflect on their massive victory over Manchester City on Saturday, as a trip to relegation-threatened Sunderland is up next today.
Jürgen Klopp’s men were not at their adventurously exciting best against the Citizens but perhaps the fact they still managed to win is proof that an ability to win in a variety of ways is now existent in this side. The Reds can cruise to victories like they did against Watford, they can come from behind like they did away at Swansea City and most of all, they can grind out a dirty win as we witnessed in the Merseyside derby against Everton.
That, whether you want to whisper it or scream it from the top of your lungs, is a quality that title-winning sides boast, making Liverpool a very difficult test for anyone.
Their opponents today probably wouldn’t have chosen a worse time to face the Reds than immediately on the back of a 4-1 thrashing away to Burnley. The Black Cats were simply horrendous at Turf Moor and the potential loss of striker Victor Anichebe and defender Lamine Kone to injury just about rubs salt into the wounds.
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Reds boss Klopp labelled Sunderland “the most defensive team I ever saw”, following a 2-0 win for his side in the reverse fixture at Anfield in November.
Expect a similar set-up by David Moyes’ men, who will surely view a point as a massive steal for them.
But, Liverpool are a no-nonsense, no-excuses team at the moment and I fancy them to grab the victory.
Prediction: Sunderland 0-3 Liverpool
Tottenham Hotspur vs Chelsea
While Chelsea will likely view this as nothing more than just another three points opportunity, their London neighbours Tottenham Hotspur will fancy this fixture as an opportunity to prove their quality against the best and fill their squad with some confidence in their campaign for a place in the top-four.
The Lily Whites have been excellent in their past two matches, which have seen attacking duo Harry Kane and Delle Alli get into some good goal-scoring form (Kane has three goals in his last two matches, whilst Alli has four). As ever, they will be key figures for Spurs on Wednesday but most importantly perhaps is Mauricio Pochettino’s defensive unit.
The return from injury of centre-back Toby Alderweireld was priceless for Tottenham. The Belgian is arguably the best central defender in the league right now and with him, Spurs’ back-four looks much stronger.
They will need to be as strong against a Chelsea side lead by the league’s top forward, Diego Costa.
The Spanish striker just can’t stop scoring at the moment and is just six goals short of hitting the 20-goal mark this season. Add to that the fact that Antonio Conte has capable goal-scorers elsewhere and a strong defensive unit himself and these two sides look evenly matched on paper.
That alone makes it even harder for me to predict this one.
I’m going to predict a Chelsea win, though, not because I don’t think Spurs can win this one but because at the moment, the league leaders are just a safer bet.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 Chelsea
AFC Bournemouth vs Arsenal
Despite the fact I find it easy to overlook Bournemouth’s win at Swansea, simply because the Swans are the worst side in the Premier League anyway, the Cherries do still deserve credit for taking their chances well and 3-0 didn’t flatter them if you ask me.
Eddie Howe now turns his focus on a rather difficult home game against an Arsenal side who, one may say, have got their groove back.
The Gunners beat Crystal Palace last night at the Emirates, with Olivier Giroud proving that Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan isn’t the only player in the world who can produce a sublime piece of skill to score a goal.
For all the criticism the Frenchman gets, I actually think he’s a top striker and commend him for the manner in which he’s reacted to constant criticism from his own fans, as well as being dropped on a number of occasions this season by his manager. Usually, when he gets going in terms of goals, it’s difficult to stop him so I think another start will reward Arsene Wenger with a goal or two at the Vitality Stadium.
And it’s a ground I fancy them to earn a win at on Tuesday evening.
I just think that Bournemouth’s home form has been too inconsistent this season. They’ve shown their strength in wins over Everton, West Bromwich Albion and even Liverpool but then what follows is a thrashing at the hands of Southampton.
I think Arsenal will just have too much for them again, following a 3-1 win in the reverse fixture.
Prediction: Bournemouth 1-4 Arsenal
Middlesbrough vs Leicester City
Middlesbrough looked good value for their money at Old Trafford, until they capitulated in less than two minutes, shipping two goals to see them lose the match 2-1.
We’ve already seen enough of them this season to know that is unlike them and it’s something they’ll look to improve upon and go back to being that defensively resilient side we know them to be, or else their place in 16th may be under serious threat from those below them on the league table.
Despite being the Premier League’s current title holders, opponents Leicester face a similar challenge to the teams in and around the bottom half of the table. The Foxes are 15th on the table, with only two wins out of their last six matches. The last of those wins came most recently against West Ham United so, for the sake of building some consistency, Claudio Ranieri’s men will surely be looking for nothing less than a win at the Riverside Stadium.
I think the chances of Boro getting something from this match are quite good but so are those of Leicester.
I’m just going to take a gamble and back them to win it, though.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 1-2 Leicester City
West Bromwich Albion vs Hull City
I must say that I didn’t fancy West Bromwich Albion to win against Southampton but credit to them for proving me wrong.
In addition to scoring two, well-taken goals, the Baggies did well to keep a Saints attacking unit considered so dangerous quiet and that sets them up perfectly for a potential three points at home to Hull.
Mike Phelan’s Tigers put in a bold performance against Everton on Friday night and one that I feel highlighted just how good they can be on their day. However, when you put both your best and worst on display in the same match then winning games will always be an uphill task.
That said, how this match goes may depend on which of those sides Hull bring to the Hawthorns this afternoon. If they’re at their best, this may be a tight affair but put up their familiar worst and West Brom could hurt them here.
Either way, I fancy Tony Pulis’ men to win it. For some reason, I feel this is going to be won aerially.
Hull can be dreadful in defending set-pieces and both Everton’s goals at the KCOM Stadium were headers, so Pulis should look to exploit that defensive weakness.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 3-0 Hull City
West Ham United vs Manchester United
Manchester United made it five successive wins last weekend against Middlesbrough, ensuring that their confidence and momentum levels didn’t drop ahead of a rather tricky encounter away to West Ham United.
The last time these two met, it ended in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford but with the Hammers coming off a decent run of three straight wins (barring, ofcoarse a defeat at Leicester) Slaven Bilic’s men may fancy themselves to record another scalp over United.
I think they will make it a tough game for them but so often, thanks to Jose Mourinho’s side being so strong defensively, it can be a deadlocked match that needs only one error or lapse in concentration for someone in red to take advantage and score.
I think the Hammers will have to make sure they avoid that to have any chance of getting something out of the tie but my prediction is going to go the way of United, who are on a roll at the moment.
Prediction: West Ham United 1-2 Manchester United
Everton vs Southampton
This is really an interesting match that could go either way on paper.
It’s a clash that pits two sides heavily frustrated with an inconsistent run of form against each other, as seventh-placed Everton take on ninth-placed Southampton.
I initially thought the Toffees were poor in their start against Hull and they did well to get back in the game with an equalizer just before half-time, however, it doesn’t really matter who you are, when you get undone by pure genius – as Robert Snodgrass displayed with an amazing free-kick – there’s not much you can do about it, is there? In the end, Everton boss Ronald Koeman would’ve been frustrated to see a second successive league win continue to elude his side.
Southampton, on the other hand, are ravaged by injuries to key players and as if that’s not enough, another key Saints duo go on to pick-up red cards in respective matches, making the situation even more difficult for manager Claude Puel. Add to that two straight home defeats in one week and three points at Goodison Park would surely be a welcome relief.
Which way this clash will actually go is a tough call so I’m going to predict a draw.
Prediction: Everton 1-1 Southampton
Crystal Palace vs Swansea City
I have no doubt in my mind that Sam Allardyce will be viewing this as three points for his Crystal Palace side, who are without a win in five matches, collecting just two points over that run.
That is no disrespect to Swansea City, of course, but the Welsh club just can’t get a win at the moment, never mind put in a decent account of themselves. Their defence is way too fragile and easily breakable so I can imagine the likes of Christian Benteke, Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha will be rubbing their hands in anticipation of this match, as they can cause plenty of damage.
It’s also Allardyce’s first match at Selhurst Park as manager so that raises the stakes a little bit.
I’m going to back Palace to win it. I just don’t hear a single shout for Swansea at the moment.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 4-0 Swansea City
Manchester City vs Burnley
Manchester City lost a big battle at Anfield on Saturday and with Pep Guardiola’s men now sitting fifth courtesy of Tottenham Hotspur’s goal difference advantage, they’re in great danger of falling short in the war.
The top-half of the Premier League may be congested at the moment but as the weeks roll on, teams are putting together some consistent results, creating a vital gap between each other that will surely mean a lot come May.
If City are to start bridging that gap, this home tie against Burnley is a must win but even then, they will need to build on it.
The Clarets are the league’s ‘home’ team, as they proved again with two straight wins against Middlesbrough and Sunderland. Away from Turf Moor, it just doesn’t happen for them and Man City will look to take advantage of that for sure.
City fans could also look forward to seeing striker Sergio Aguero at the Etihad Stadium again. The Argentine didn’t look up to speed against Liverpool but this match provides him with a decent opportunity to get back into form following his ban.
Prediction: Manchester City 2-0 Burnley
Stoke City vs Watford
For a team under the management of an Italian – a nationality that prides itself with having a strong backline first and foremost – Watford concede an alarming amount of goals at times, particularly against the league’s top sides, as we witnessed against Tottenham.
The Hornets haven’t kept a single clean sheet in nine league matches and that doesn’t look set to change with a trip to the Bet365 Stadium, where a Stoke City side without a win in five matches lie in wait.
The Potters would’ve rightly felt that they put in a decent performance against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, however, as we’ve seen for the most part of this season, the Blues were just too strong.
This home clash is a good chance to bounce back, however, Stoke themselves need to tighten up at the back if that should happen.
Mark Hughes’ men have shipped ten goals in their last three games alone so perhaps a few extra defensive drills need to be added to the Potters’ training schedule.
Either way, I’m going to predict that they grab a home win in this match.
Despite those defensive issues, I think they’ve shown over the past few games that they’ve got goals in them so keep that up and they win this, for me.
Prediction: Stoke City 2-0 Watford