Martin King has, once again, compiled a comprehensive preview of the Premier League’s next round of football. Enjoy.
With the past week being jampacked with domestic cup matches and multiple transfer headlines that all come to a head in today’s deadline, you would be forgiven for forgetting that there’s another round of Premier League football in waiting.
England’s top flight returns with a 23rd gameweek that is split between Tuesday and Wednesday, with the impending task for all 20 sides once again being victory.
The previous round’s action saw Liverpool slump to a 3-2 home defeat at the hands of Swansea City. West Bromwich Albion beat Sunderland 2-0, while Everton recorded the second of only three away wins during the weekend, beating Crystal Palace 1-0.
The third win on the road came at Middlesbrough, where West Ham United won 3-1, Manchester United earned a point at Stoke City while Bournemouth and Watford played to a 2-2 draw at the Vitality Stadium.
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There was another 2-2 played between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal beat Burnley 2-1, Southampton cruised past Leicester City 3-0 all before Chelsea rounded the weekend off with a 2-0 win over Hull City.
As a matter of fact, it’s the Blues that take centre stage in this upcoming round, as they take on a beleaguered Liverpool side in a match that could decide either side’s fate for the rest of the season. Elsewhere, rivals will be watching closely with one eye, whilst also looking to ensure that their own jobs are done well.
Add to that an interestingly congested relegation battle and once again it’s all set to be a spectacular, if not simply satisfying round of Premier League action.
That said, let’s get the build-up underway with another round of predictions!
Liverpool vs. Chelsea
Distinguished fortress, arena of greatness, for Liverpool a source of strength, for their opponents an encouragement of fear, a ground where only the best is demanded and mediocrity is never accepted.
However, over the past week, those principles have been undermined, Liverpool have seen a year-old unbeaten home record easily fall away at the hands of Swansea City. Add to that two more home defeats in cup competitions against Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers and what once looked like a small blip has grown into a serious, season-threatening crisis.
Up-next, Anfield hosts Chelsea.
The Premier League leaders have only seen their lead at the top grow stronger over the past few weeks, they are now eight points clear of second-placed Arsenal.
Such is their combined strength that anything that has threatened their campaign has been easily dealt with, whether it’s the suspension of a key player, a rare defeat, an in-game mishap or even the misbehaviour of their leading marksman, Antonio Conté’s men have done well to bounce back from bad situations.
That resilience has put them in a very good position ahead of this match and the London outfit will play with the knowledge that victory could very well blow their opponents, who are title contenders themselves, out of the race.
Overall, it’s an under-pressure Liverpool versus an opportunist Chelsea and although victory matters more to one than it does to the other, on paper, both sides will be giving all they can to achieve it.
The home side will have key striker Sadio Mané back in contention, following his native Senegal’s exit from the Africa Cup of Nations. Midfielder Adam Lallana could be deemed fit to play while there are doubts surrounding the inclusion of defender Nathaniel Clyne.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have no real worries with their squad and a strong, first-choice eleven is expected from Conté.
On to the difficult task of making a prediction then: Liverpool will be energised by their 2-1 win in the reverse fixture while Chelsea will take confidence from the fact they are a completely different side from then. There will surely be goals in this one, any result at all is possible and despite my initial thoughts being a draw, I think Chelsea will have enough to record a win.
Prediction: Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea
Arsenal vs. Watford
Such is the points congestion in the Premier League’s top six that winning, on any given weekend, can catapult a side very close to the summit, if not on top of it.
This was the case for Arsenal, last week, who, after four of the top-six dropped points, capitalised with a 2-1 win over Burnley, a result that moved them from fourth-place on the table to gunning for top spot.
As photos of their pre-FA Cup match training session would’ve assumed, there is certainly a feel-good factor about Arsenal at the moment and rightly so. Ever since two successive defeats against Everton and Manchester City in December, Arsené Wenger’s men are unbeaten in five league matches and seven games in all competitions altogether.
Up next for them is a chance to continue their fine run of form and add some more momentum to their campaign with another home tie against Watford.
In truth, there is always a good buzz about the Hornets but seven league games without a single win – four of which were defeats – an exit to lowly Millwall in the FA Cup and the loss of a key player in striker Odion Ighalo in this month’s the transfer window, seems to have taken a buzz out of the Vicarage Road side and they head into this match at the Emirates rightly unaware of what to expect in the context of a result.
I know what to expect, in fact. we all do, don’t we?
Basing my judgement on recent form and quality, I think Arsenal should and will win it.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Watford
West Ham United vs. Manchester City
As it has already been mentioned, many players have come to West Ham United and made the kind of great impact that has seen them rewarded with cult hero status, but few of those players have had their name so easily wiped off the furniture like dust after their departure like Dimitri Payet.
Long story cut short: the French midfielder finally left the club for Marseille this week after requesting an exit and blatantly refusing to play for the Hammers, all to his fans’ great disapproval.
All parties have clearly moved on now, with the London club bringing in Robert Snodgrass from Hull City. Had I been a Hammers fan, I would be genuinely excited by this purchase because Snodgrass may not be on the same level as Payet quality-wise, but the Scottish winger will certainly get the job done as he offers good work-rate, a fair bit of pace and creativity to stretch opposition defences and a phenomenal technical ability to ensure that those beautiful free-kicks remain on show at the London Stadium.
The task that Slaven Bilič is immediately confronted with is a difficult one, as his side host Manchester City on Wednesday night.
City are coming off a 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur, where, in all fairness, they rightly displayed their determination to stay in the title mix, however, were once again undone by a bad habit that many predict could even cost them a place in the Champions League next season in their conceding of goals.
It’s become a clear weakness for opposition sides to exploit nowadays, that defence and having said that, I must express surprise at the lack of defensive reinforcements this month.
Surely one or two would’ve helped to tighten things up at the back for Pep Guardiola.
Either way, their attack will understandably be causing West Ham’s own defence a few nightmares, as the last time these two sides met was in the FA Cup earlier this month, a match City bossed to win 5-0 at the London Stadium.
I don’t foresee another thrashing if I’m honest. I think this game will be closer than that and I can see West Ham causing the Sky Blues a few more problems. If they penetrate that backline they will surely come away with something, it’s whether that something will be a win that I’m not quite certain about.
Prediction: West Ham United 2-3 Manchester City
Burnley vs. Leicester City
It would seem as though every tree has it’s own bad apples.
Just when you thought West Ham were the only ones, in enters Leicester City and Leonardo Ulloa.
The Argentine striker went all guns blazing with his feelings on Twitter last night, saying that he felt betrayed by manager Claudio Ranieri (for reportedly refusing to grant him his desired move away from the club) before going on to claim that he will not play for Leicester ever again.
This situation only adds fuel to a fire that Ranieri has been trying to put out all season. Leicester currently sit 15th on the league table, very well aware of their involvement in the battle for survival. The title-holders have conceded six goals in only their last two games and have shown little to no quality and resilience in most of their games this season.
If they’re going to reach their intended target of 40 points this season, then both of those attributes and some consistency needs to be added to their game.
Burnley welcome the Foxes to Turf Moor knowing that they’ve got a healthy home record to protect. The Clarets have won eight out of their twelve home games this season, losing just three and have used these games as a platform to achieve their own survival, despite their away record being better left unspoken of.
Sean Dyche will surely be looking at this match as another win and given that they’ve been putting in some decent performances in the league as of late, even achieving progress in the FA Cup, they will be confident of a win against their opponents on Tuesday night.
And I am pretty confident about their chances myself, as I’m going to back them to win against the champions 2-0.
Prediction: Burnley 2-0 Leicester City
AFC Bournemouth vs. Crystal Palace
If there’s one thing that has constantly troubled Bournemouth this season, it’s their rather leaky defence.
I say that because the Cherries are a decent side and can, with their style of play, finish in mid-table but the fact that they concede goals as much as they score them must surely be a point of concern for manager Eddie Howe. The Englishman has unfortunately lost defender Nathan Aké to a loan recall by Chelsea and have failed in their interest in goalkeeper Asmir Begovič. Cherries fans would have been hoping that the club could make a deal happen before tonight’s deadline as the Bosnian would’ve been a great addition to their defence.
Speaking of defensive problems and key acquisitions, Crystal Palace have also added a defender to their ranks in Patrick Van Aanholt from Sunderland and just like their opponents are a decent enough side that just seriously need tightening up at the back.
In addition to still searching for manager Sam Allardyce’s first league win as boss – a search that has now gone on for five games – the Eagles have kept only one clean sheet in their last ten games. As I always say about sides going through a rough patch, the best remedy is only found in recording victory.
Even an undeserved, dirty win will do because that returns some confidence and hope to the side. Therefore, Palace will certainly be looking for that win in their match at the Vitality Stadium tonight.
Either way, I fancy Bournemouth again to win this match. I backed the Cherries to win in gameweek 22 and they only drew at home to Watford but once again, in a game that can produce goals for both sides, I’m going to back them to come out on top courtesy of their home advantage.
Prediction: Bournemouth 3-1 Crystal Palace
Sunderland vs. Tottenham Hotspur
No real business on the transfer front for Tottenham Hotspur this month but no real worry either.
The Lily Whites have one of the most complete squads in the Premier League and to back that up, depth. So, manager Mauricio Pochettino is clearly and rightly satisfied with what he’s got.
That said, Spurs’ target this season is once again a strong push for the title and after getting a point at Man City to add to their six straight wins, they will be keen to keep their momentum going with a win away at Sunderland.
The Black Cats have shown their determination to achieve their survival target this season by spending money on a few players this month, however, their best piece of business will probably be managing to keep top goal-scorer Jermain Defoe, despite interest from Premier League rivals in him. The 34-year-old has scored twelve goals for David Moyes’ men this season and can still add to that tally, which could be vital in ensuring Sunderland’s survival this year.
This match is another in which they’re going to try their luck to get something from because on paper Spurs are overwhelming favourites to win it.
I think the London side are going to spend most of their time trying to break their opponents down because Moyes will likely set-up to defend against their attacking threat, although given that Tottenham have a defensive strength of their own, I can’t see them being too vulnerable to the counter-attack.
If they finish their chances well in the final third of the pitch, then I see them winning it comfortably.
Prediction: Sunderland 1-3 Tottenham Hotspur
Swansea City vs. Southampton
Swansea City’s huge win at Anfield last week affected them positively in more ways than one.
Confidence in themselves was obviously solidified but more importantly, belief in the message manager Paul Clement is trying to put across was gained and most importantly a place outside of the relegation zone retained.
That gets Clement’s survival mission well underway and having brought in a few signings this month, with a chance of at least one more, the Englishman will only have one target on his mind: building on his side’s current position.
That task immediately leads him to a home match against Southampton.
The Saints have, in truth, been in all sorts as of late. While the success of their EFL Cup campaign has been celebrated, what has followed has been a 5-0 thrashing in the FA Cup at the hands of Arsenal and the reality of a single win in their last five league matches, made worse by the loss of Virgil van Dijk to injury.
Either way, Claude Puel will want his side to put everything behind them as they look to bounce back from their cup defeat with a win at the Liberty Stadium.
I would fancy them to win it on paper but given how well Swansea are starting to play, it’s not going to be straightforward for Southampton at all.
I actually fancy Clement to inspire the Swans to another win here.
Prediction: Swansea City 2-1 Southampton
Stoke City vs. Everton
Stoke host Everton at the Bet365 Stadium on Wednesday night in a battle of the midtable sides.
The Potters are on a decent run of three games unbeaten and preserved a strong record at home in the last round, sharing the spoils against Manchester United. They will surely be gunning for another win against their in-form opponents.
The Toffees will also be keen to stretch an unbeaten run of five games in the league with a result against Mark Hughes’ men and hang on to their current seventh place.
I expect an end-to-end encounter from both sides. Stoke may be good enough in a defensive sense but I don’t expect either one of them or Everton to hold back in this match, which should make for an entertaining encounter.
That said, picking a winner is tough but I’m going to go for home advantage and back Stoke to get a result from this one.
Prediction: Stoke City 2-1 Everton
Middlesbrough vs. West Bromwich Albion
Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka was visibly displeased with the way in which the January transfer window has treated his side in his traditional pre-match press conference ahead of this match against West Bromwich Albion.
The Spaniard has reportedly missed out on a number of key targets for his side and still faces the possibility of key players leaving the Riverside Stadium ahead of tonight’s late closing of the transfer window.
While his frustration would be understandable in many parts of England, Karanka must now focus his aggression towards leading his side to a first win in five league matches, whilst improving upon a home record that has seen them win only three of their eleven matches at the Riverside Stadium.
They next host West Bromwich Albion.
The Baggies are coming off a 2-0 win over Sunderland, with their recent run of form mixed but encouraging nonetheless. Add to that the fact they’ve been challenging for a mid-table place in 8th position and there’s clearly been progress achieved under manager Tony Pulis.
This is a match between two sides who are very good defensively and know all about the physical game.
Matched up against each other in the reverse fixture, they played out a goalless draw but I think this time will surely produce a winner and I’m going to back the most likely of the two to score goals in West Brom to walk away with the win.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 0-2 West Bromwich Albion
Manchester United vs. Hull City
This will be the fourth meeting in all competitions between these two sides and in truth, nothing much will have changed in terms of who is most fancied to grab the win.
Manchester United are still on the hunt for a place in the top-four but in between their league encounters, the Red Devils have managed to stay in both their domestic cup competitions, earning morale-boosting wins against both Hull and Wigan Athletic previously.
Hull, on the other hand, had been on a decent enough ride under new boss Marco Silva but I think their journey has taken a few bumps and will be in danger of experiencing more than a few curves with the departure of two of their key players in Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass. Add to that the fact that their next couple of games after Man United see them face Liverpool and Arsenal and this tough period is surely only set to continue for the Tigers.
The results of their meetings against United also look set to continue in the same vein, as a win for the Old Trafford side is once again expected.
Prediction: Manchester United 3-0 Hull City