Martin King brings you Rousing the Kop’s 22nd prediction piece with Manchester City and Spurs the big game of the weekend.
As the chill of winter continues to move across the United Kingdom, blankets, jackets and cups of hot chocolate continue to be embraced and above all appreciated by the public. However, there is no such comfort for Premier League players, they instead have to go out onto the pitches and take it on the chin and as a new round of football action looms forth, we can build up to it with gameweek 22 of the prediction game.
Gameweek 21 was filled with nothing but headlines, as London clubs Tottenham Hotspur won 4-0 over West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United impressively beat Crystal Palace 3-0, Chelsea cruised past Leicester City 3-0 and Arsenal thumped Swansea 4-0.
Elsewhere, Hull City recorded a 3-1 win over Bournemouth, Stoke City beat hapless Sunderland 3-1 whilst Burnley nicked a 1-0 win over Southampton.
There were two draws, with Watford and Middlesbrough ending goalless and Manchester United and Liverpool ending one-all. The pick of the weekend surely goes to Everton. The Toffees blew away Manchester City by a 4-0 scoreline.
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In the context of both the race at the top and the battle at the bottom, this is yet another hugely important weekend for Premier League sides, with a win the sole target, no questions asked.
That said, let’s look ahead to it all with another round of predictions.
Liverpool vs. Swansea City
Nobody wants to carry around with them a winless record of any sort so Liverpool would’ve been pleased to record their first win of 2017 in their midweek FA Cup replay against Plymouth Argyle.
The attention now quickly turns to Saturday’s encounter with Swansea City and ensuring that a first Premier League win of the year is achieved, along with staying in touch with the pacey title race.
For Swansea, every match is a must-win but the Welsh side may just view this as a bit of a free-swing. In their five matches at Anfield in the Premier League era, they’ve only managed a single point, which came in a goalless draw in 2011. Add to that two facts: that they’ve only won once in the last seven games and are just getting started under a third manager this season and the matter concludes itself: this will not be an easy game for them.
Usually part of an opposition manager’s preparation for a match against Liverpool is gearing his side up to put pressure on the Reds’ defence. That should surely be in Paul Clement’s thinking ahead of the visit to Anfield but Jürgen Klopp’s men can take encouragement in the improved form of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and hope that he backs up his Man of The Match performance at Manchester United on Saturday afternoon.
But, as always with Liverpool, it’s going to be the other end of the pitch where the game is won and I’m going to back them to score twice on their way to a win.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-0 Swansea City
Stoke City vs. Manchester United
Given that victory would’ve taken them that much closer to the top four, Manchester United would’ve viewed the 1-1 draw against rivals Liverpool last week as two points dropped.
The stakes, records, venue and even timing of the match favoured them massively but the Red Devils just couldn’t make it count, with their opponents proving a stumbling block to their every move.
Up next is a big opportunity to bounce back from that display, as Jose Mourinho’s men travel to the Bet365 Stadium.
Home side Stoke City will be heading into this match looking to preserve a good run of form that has seen them unbeaten in their last four home games.
Local supporters will looking at this match with a keen eye, as the Potters have taken seven points from their last three encounters with Man United at the Bet365 Stadium.
Looking to help them add to that tally in this match should be Stoke’s forwards.
Each of Jon Walters, Peter Crouch and Marko Arnautovic have found the net in atleast one of their side’s last four games, with Crouch standing out by three goals, and Mark Hughes will be hoping he continues his goal-scoring form.
It’s a tricky fixture but Man United will be eager to put in an improved performance and get all three points. Their draw against Liverpool aside, the Red Devils are still on a six-game winning run and Mourinho will only want his side to add on to the point taken from their last match.
I’m going to back them to just come away with a win. I do think it will be a tough encounter and Stoke will offer more than just a hopeful fight. They’ll be confident they can win this as well but I think quality will shine through in the end.
Prediction: Stoke City 1-2 Manchester United
Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur
The dejected face of Pep Guardiola.
It’s not something we see every day, in fact, very few times have we seen it in a career that boasts over 20 club honours, with two of the world’s best clubs. But, with Manchester City, that success will either come in due time or not at all.
That is largely because, unlike Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Man City are in a league of equals, a league where anyone can beat anyone and success is achieved not by power, talent or reputation but by hard work. Sure, the Spaniard should already know this but five defeats in 21 games (the most of anyone in the current top-six this season) has proven to be a bitter reminder and up next, looking to make it six defeats is Tottenham Hotspur.
For many observers, it isn’t their opponents nor is it anyone else in the top-half of the table but Spurs who have the most complete squad in the Premier League. From one of the league’s top ‘keepers in Hugo Lloris to England’s top sharpshooter in Harry Kane, they’ve got an abundance of quality and as good a chance as anyone at winning the league title.
That claim will surely not sound any more believable now than after their match at the Etihad Stadium if they manage victory.
And given that the Lily Whites have definitely had Man City’s numbers as of late (Spurs have beaten City in each of their last three league meetings, the last of which was a 2-0 win at White Hart Lane this season) I’m going to back them to beat City yet again.
Looking at the two sides on paper, there isn’t much to separate them but their respective defences. Spurs have conceded the fewest goals of anyone in the top-six (14), while City have shipped the most (26) due to a very leaky defence.
I think it will cost them again this time. With Spurs striker Harry Kane on a great run of goal scoring form, I think this will go the way of the Lily Whites.
Prediction: Manchester City 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Middlesbrough vs. West Ham United
As far as proving to the world that your side can do without a certain player goes, West Ham’s way of doing it was utterly brilliant.
You would think that the London Stadium faithful chanting “Who is Dimitri Payet?” was a classic but then Andy Carroll goes on to score an absolute wonder goal and you’re probably left thinking, “Maybe the Hammers can do without Payet after all.”
Either way, Slaven Bilič would’ve already been preparing his side to back a great performance against Crystal Palace up with another away to Middlesbrough.
Boro still sit in 16th, after a run of form that has seen them win only one of their last six games. The key to improving that form surely lies first in improving a sole statistic of theirs that hasn’t looked good for them this season, goals scored.
With only 17 goals this season, Aitor Karanka’s men are the league’s lowest goalscorers. Their two consecutive goalless draws against Leicester City and Watford in the past two gameweeks have not helped the situation and the Riverside faithful will be hoping that the new signing of striker Rudy Gestede can help to change that, as a strong defence alone may not be enough to see them achieve survival this season.
As for this Saturday afternoon match against the Hammers, I expect a very tight affair. West Ham have bags of talent in attack and will be doing all they can to score goals but Boro can and have kept out some of the league’s best sides.
I’m just going to predict a narrow win for their opponents, though.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 0-2 West Ham United
Crystal Palace vs. Everton
Sam Allardyce’s search for a first Premier League win as Crystal Palace boss continues against a side that must be viewed as tough opponents in Everton.
The Toffees are on a positive run of form, unbeaten in their last four games and buzzing after a 4-0 thumping of Manchester City. Some good food for thought that manager Ronald Koeman would’ve surely recovered from that win is the reliability of his youngsters. All of Mason Holgate, Tom Davies and Ademola Lookman featured against City, all of them impressed, which only adds fuel to the fire of senior talent that the Merseysiders already have.
With their league form suffering, a win in the FA Cup for Crystal Palace would’ve been welcomed as a refreshing change in form. Allardyce has admitted that the South Londoners are struggling to complete transfers this month but I don’t think that should be their only source of hope. Considering that they’ve got some good players, the current crop should surely be doing better.
And the former West Ham boss will be demanding better this Saturday afternoon in front of the Selhurst Park crowd, in a match that bookies feel will produce goals.
Add to that the fact that Palace are joint top goal-scorers in the bottom half of the table with 30 goals and Everton’s clear ability in front of goal and I may have to agree with that prediction.
As for my own, I’m tipping the Toffees to come out on top of it.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-3 Everton
Southampton vs. Leicester City
It’s been quite a fall from grace for Southampton in the Premier League.
After a run of form that saw them lose just once in six matches, the Saints have lost their last four league matches and have moved from knocking on the doors of Europe to mid-table obscurity. They next face Leicester City, with manager Claude Puel surely desperate to see his side return to winning ways.
The title-holders themselves have a bone to pick with their recent run of form. For the entirety of this season, it’s been mixed, with the consistency of last season eluding the Foxes. Another thing that they’ve struggled with this season is away goals. Claudio Ranieri’s men have only managed eight on their travels this season, with a further burden of zero away wins this season making a win at Saint Mary’s look rather unlikely.
With Southampton struggling to score goals in the absence of striker Charlie Austin (only managing two in their last four matches) I would agree with anyone who views the result of this match as a draw.
But I am just going to gamble a bit and back the home side to just nick a win.
Prediction: Southampton 2-1 Leicester City
Chelsea vs. Hull City
After some time spent away from home that has seen them lose their first match in thirteen and bounce back with a victory over Leicester, Chelsea return to Stamford Bridge with another opportunity to stretch their lead at the top awaiting them.
Boosting their campaign, after not featuring for the Blues in their last match, should be Diego Costa. The Spanish striker has been confirmed by manager Antonio Conte to have returned to first-team training this week, with reports of an offer from a Chinese club this month being pushed aside.
Their opponents Hull City are on a high following the appointment of new boss Marco Silva. The Portuguese manager saw his side impressively beat Bournemouth 3-1 last week, with the KCOM Stadium in good voice. Not that three points look likely in their next match but the Tigers have to take all their chances well, as a single point could take them out of the relegation zone.
That said, I think Chelsea will take all three in this match. With Costa potentially set to feature, I can’t look beyond the quality gap between these two sides in reasoning just why I think the Blues will be too good for Hull.
Prediction: Chelsea 3-0 Hull City
West Bromwich Albion vs. Sunderland
It’s fair to say that Sunderland’s campaign to make it out of the relegation zone has been a classic tale of “Build you up and let you down” for their fans.
Defeats against top teams aside, the Black Cats have managed some decent wins over the teams in and around them, with Hull City and Watford recently beaten at the Stadium of Light, but it has been the same sides which the Wear-side club are capable of beating which they have put in some of their worst performances against, enter their 3-0 loss to Swansea City and most recently a shambolic 3-1 defeat at home to Stoke.
That performance, they will be looking to make up for with an improved display against West Bromwich Albion.
The Baggies may have been thrashed by Tottenham last week but at the Hawthorns they’ve won all but one of their last five matches, making Sunderland’s trip there a daunting one.
David Moyes’ men have been very leaky at the back so opposition manager Tony Pulis will rightly be targeting their defence as a point of weakness and with his side boasting the joint-highest headed goals this season with 11, their chances look good.
Jake Livermore was signed from Hull City this week and could add some quality to Tony Pulis’ squad this Saturday.
And it is an afternoon that I think will produce a good result for them as I’m predicting a 2-0 win for West Brom.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 2-0 Sunderland
AFC Bournemouth vs. Watford
On what was a very emotional occasion for everyone connected with Watford Football Club, the Hornets recorded a goalless draw with Middlesbrough, seeing them continue their winless run of form.
Walter Mazzarri’s men are searching for a first win in six matches, with the Italian again looking to get better performances from his defence, which has conceded ten goals over that run, and an attack that has seen strikers Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney struggle to kick on from an impressive first season in the Premier League last year.
The former has reportedly been linked with an exit from Vicarage Road this month and it will be interesting to see if the club is willing to let him go, given his poor season form.
Bournemouth, on the other hand, are also seeking to bounce back after a defeat away at Hull. We all know that Eddie Howe’s men are a free-flowing attacking side so I think we can expect them to go at Watford in this match and they’ll be desperate to get a win as it will be their first of 2017.
For a struggling Watford team, a visit to the Vitality Stadium is a difficult one. Bournemouth are usually very good at home and they will be feeding on the support of the home crowd on their way to, what I think, will be a win for them.
Prediction: Bournemouth 3-1 Watford
Arsenal vs. Burnley
By the time that fourth placed Arsenal play this match on Sunday afternoon, the Gunners could find themselves sitting in sixth at worst.
Every one of their top rivals, besides Chelsea will have already played by then and they’ll be surely put in a desperate position to win and remain in and around that top-half battle.
The good news is, they’re in a good run of form, with some of their best players fit and firing and they host Burnley knowing that a match against the Clarets on any given day can be quite tricky.
Sean Dyche’s men still search for an away win but after putting in a tough display away at Manchester City a few weeks ago – despite eventually losing – the Turf Moor outfit can back themselves to put in an equally impressive performance at the Emirates Stadium, hoping that it yields them some sort of result.
My prediction, though, doesn’t quite favour them. I think Arsenal are playing well at the moment and will certainly win this match.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Burnley